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Learning to drive: What you need to know

So, you’ve decided to learn to drive. Exciting times — pass your test and you’ll have the open road just a key away, and no need to sit on buses crammed to the doors with people who don’t appear to have showered in weeks.

It’s not quite as simple as a multiple-choice General Studies GCSE exam to pass, though. You’ll need to have someone to teach you — be it a trusted friend or an approved instructor — and gain the skills to drive independently and safely.

Looking to get behind the wheel? Read through this handy guide for everything you need to know about learning to drive.

Can I learn to drive during lockdown?

You can still learn to drive across the UK during lockdown, but the level of restriction depends largely on the area you’re in.

Under current lockdown restrictions in England, you’re only able to learn to drive if it’s with a member of your household or support bubble. It must also be to travel for essential reasons — like heading to work, taking the kids to school or driving yourself to university.

For Scotland, driving lessons are allowed in areas in protection level 3 (Currently the Shetland Islands and Western Isles) otherwise it’s the same as English restrictions.

For Wales, you’re only allowed to learn to drive with someone from your household during an essential journey. It’s the same in Northern Ireland, too.

Whoever you’re driving with doesn’t need to be a qualified instructor, but they do need to meet a few requirements for you to legally have them teach you. They’ll need to be over 21, be licensed to drive the vehicle you’re driving (so if they only have an automatic licence, they can’t help you in a manual for example) and have held a full driving licence for at least three years.

You also can’t pay them, otherwise they’d need to be a qualified instructor. Maybe bake them a cake as thanks, instead.

Will learning to drive change after lockdown?

How learning to drive will look as lockdown restrictions are eased is largely unknown at this point, though expect to be allowed to take lessons with a qualified instructor reasonably soon into the easing.

The process of learning to drive will likely remain largely the same as before, though precautions will probably be recommended. These could include wearing face coverings while on lessons, regular sanitising of your hands and the car by the instructor, and potentially fewer lesson slots available as instructors wipe down the car between sessions.

Can I book my test during lockdown?

You are able to book your driving test despite the lockdown restrictions, though the likelihood is you’ll be taking your test once restrictions are easing anyway if you book now.

Current guidance says you will need to wear a face covering during your test unless you’re exempt. If you are exempt, you need to state this at the point of booking as turning up to your test without a face covering will see it cancelled.

How long does learning to drive take?

There’s no hard-set rule on how long it takes to learn to drive. You could be a genius out of the blocks and master everything you need to know in a couple of months, or you might be a little more cautious and take a lot longer.

The best advice to take on how long you’ll need can come from your instructor. They’ll have a feeling of when you’ll be ready to take your test.

It’s generally thought the average person will take about 45 hours of lessons to be ready for a test, but it varies widely from person to person. Don’t rush yourself and take your test too soon, but equally if you haven’t driven long and you feel confident of passing — why not give it a go?

How old do I need to be to learn to drive?

For the majority of people in the UK, you’ll need to be at least 17-years-old to begin your driving lessons on public roads.

If you get or have applied for the enhanced rate of the mobility component of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you’re able to learn from the age of 16. This is a payment that can be claimed by those who find everyday tasks difficult as a result of a physical or mental condition.

How do I get my provisional licence?

You’ll need a provisional licence to learn to drive in the UK, and it’s pretty easy to get one.

You’ll need to be at least 15 years and 9 months old to apply for one (this is because you can ride a moped from 16) and be capable of reading a number plate from 20 metres away.

It costs £34, and you can apply online through the government website. You’ll need an identity document, a record of your addresses over the last three years and your National Insurance number.

Can I learn to drive in my own car?

You are able to learn to drive in your own car, as long you have someone eligible to teach you in the passenger seat.

Whoever is helping you practice will need to be over 21, be licensed to drive the vehicle you’re driving (so if they only have an automatic licence, they can’t help you in a manual for example) and have held a full driving licence for at least three years.

You’ll need to insure your car, too. Plenty of companies offer learner driver insurance, and usually cover whoever is teaching you as well. Some policies may require that the person supervising will need to be over 25 years old, though.

Can I learn to drive on motorways?

Since 2018, it’s been legal for learner drivers to head out on motorways. It has to be with a qualified driving instructor though — so you can’t just get your mate to sit in the passenger seat as you head up the M1 for the first time — and the car needs to have dual controls.

It’s at the discretion of your instructor when exactly you can head out on the motorways. That could be as early as you feel confident, or closer to the time of your test. It’s also not a requirement, so you may not even go on the motorway as a learner.

Can I learn to drive at night?

There are no restrictions at what time of day you can drive as a learner, so you can head out in the thick of the night if you really want to. The same rules apply across all times of the day though, so you’ll still need a qualified instructor or someone supervising that meets the requirements.

How do I book my theory and practical driving tests?

Booking your theory or driving test is a simple task – simply head online to the government website, or do it over the phone. You’ll need to have passed your theory test before you can take your practical, though.

To book your theory, you’ll need to have lived in the UK for at least 185 days in the last 12 months on the day before your test. Once lockdown restrictions allow the tests to be taken again, current guidance requires you to wear a face covering too.

You can book your practical driving test up to 18 weeks before you take it as well. There are no requirements of how long you’ll need to have driven before taking your test, as long as you hold a valid pass of the theory portion.

A theory test currently costs £23, with the practical setting you back £62.

How long is my theory test valid for?

Passed your theory test? Congrats. It’s valid for two years from the date you’ve passed before expiring, so you’ll need to pass your driving test before then.

If you let the test expire before passing your practical, you’ll need to retake it.

How many times can I take my driving theory and practical tests?

You might be happy to know there are no limits on how many theory or practical driving tests you can take, so don’t stress too much if you don’t pass the first time. You’ll have to pay for each test taken though, so it could get pricey if you’re failing a lot.