New proposals to reform the way people learn to drive and how they are tested have today been announced by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly.

Road deaths and serious injuries have fallen by 33% since the mid 1990s, but the casualty rate for young drivers has not changed. One in five people have an accident within six months of passing their test, and another 70% report near- misses in the same period. Alongside this newly-qualified drivers and their passengers account for one in five of all car deaths in Britain.

The aim of the consultation is to create safer drivers for life by strengthening the current learning and testing procedures, and creating a culture of extended and advanced learning. This follows extensive discussions with young people, employers, driving instructors and the insurance industry.

A foundation course in safe road use for under 17 years olds will be piloted in schools and colleges in Scotland from this Autumn. This will lead to a qualification that will be available across Great Britain.
For the first time there will be a syllabus to ensure more effective and comprehensive training is offered to learner drivers. This will set out more clearly the necessary steps to driving safely – beginning with the basics of car control, progressing to skills such as driving in difficult weather or at night and culminating in ensuring driver awareness is enhanced, to help novice drivers predict the intentions of other road users. This will help more learners to pass first time as safe and responsible drivers.

We want to create a culture in which the driving test is a milestone towards lifelong learning. Employers and insurers should have greater confidence in the driving abilities of those who have undertaken further training, and so we will work with them to develop proposals for post-test courses and qualifications that produce safer drivers, and that they are prepared to reward. Examples of this could include a new advanced training qualification, a course in motorway driving or vocational qualifications such as for van drivers.

Alongside this the driving test will be revised to place less emphasis on mechanical manoeuvres and allow examiners to properly assess the full range of a candidate’s abilities. An assessment of their ability to drive independently and test to judge awareness of road safety issues will be introduced.

Speaking to young drivers at the Driving Standards Agency training centre in Cardington, Ruth Kelly said: “Every year more than 750,000 people pass their driving test. New drivers are keen to gain the freedom driving offers them to access further education, jobs or keep in touch with family and friends.

“But too many new drivers are involved in road accidents and are not properly prepared for driving alone. It is time for a new approach to learning to drive. We must make sure that novice drivers are safe drivers when they have passed their test. We must also create an expectation of lifelong learning, so that people continue advanced learning after their test.

“That is why I am publishing proposals which offer new drivers more opportunities to learn both before and after the test, including at school.

“Those who undertake extra training will not only be safer drivers, but will have the added incentive that they could see a financial reward in terms of lower insurance premiums.”

More detail on the proposals in the consultation is below:

  • A new foundation course, to be piloted in schools and colleges in Scotland from this Autumn, leading to a qualification on safe road use being offered across Great Britain;
  • A more focused and thorough learning process before the driving test, which focuses not just on vehicle control but also the wider skills needed to be a safe driver, from driving in difficult conditions (for example at night or in poor weather) to learning to predict and respond to other road users’ intentions;
  • A new training syllabus to ensure learners understand what is required of them to become a responsible driver, enable them to undertake structured and efficient learning and accurately assess when they are ready to pass their driving test;
  • An improved driving test which requires the driver to demonstrate independent driving skills and clear understanding of different situations on the road, with the option of modular assessment;
  • New opportunities to take extra training post test; working with the insurance industry and employers in the driving for work sector we will develop new courses and qualifications to be taken after the driving test that could lead to lower premiums and a better chance of securing a career in the driving for work sector;
  • A star-rating system for driving instructors so that learners can make an informed choice based on pass rates and the level of training instructors have undergone;
  • A review of driving instructor training and testing to ensure they provide a quality service and are focussed on those areas of driving performance that are closely linked to safe driving.

In greater detail

The Department for Transport announced plans in February 2007 to consult on fundamental reform of driver training and testing as part of the second review of its road safety strategy.

The review promised a new framework for driver education, training, testing and lifelong learning, including developing and refreshing skills, remedial training, work-related driving and support for drivers at various stages of their driving career to develop and maintain safe driving for life.

Key facts about learning to drive (all for Great Britain)

  • Two million people take a car driving test every year.
  • The pass rate is 44%, so the average learner takes more than two tests before passing.
  • 750,000 people qualify for a licence every year – three quarters of these are under the age of 25.
  • Current average cost of a lesson is approximately £21 – up to £28 in London.
  • The average learner has 52 hours of lessons and spends £1,500 learning to drive.
  • Current fees for the driving test (for a car) are £30 for the theory test (which includes the hazard perception test); £56.50 for the practical test (£67 if you want an evening or weekend).
  • A newly qualified male driver faces an insurance premium from £1,200; and a female driver of same age faces a premium from £800.
  • The current car driving test is in two parts –
  • The theory test – a multiple-choice answer knowledge assessment (since 1996); and a computer screen-based hazard perception test (since 2002).
  • The practical test – of general driving on the road and standard manoeuvres (the three-point turn, reversing round a corner, and emergency stop): this part of the test also includes an eye sight test, and a ‘show me-tell me’ test of knowledge of the car (since 2003)

Main points in reform proposals

The Department proposes to reform the way people learn to drive, and the way they are tested. This means:

  • a driving test that gives a more realistic and rounded assessment of whether someone is fit to drive alone;
  • more focused and efficient learning, with greater clarity about what is required, so learners should not face any increase in costs;
  • better training and testing of driving instructors and better information for the public on instructors’ qualifications and performance
  • wider range of opportunities for drivers to acquire skills and demonstrate that they have done so, both before and after they qualify, creating a culture of lifelong learning and driver development.

Safer and better newly-qualified drivers will see as a result:

  • lower numbers of accidents;
  • higher levels of learner satisfaction;
  • more opportunities and greater incentives for post-test learning, with this becoming increasingly common;
  • higher levels of employer confidence in the driving test and driving qualifications;
  • lower insurance costs for drivers who have taken advantage of a wider range of learning options, both pre and post test, to improve their competence.


  • Consultation on the proposals runs for 16 weeks up to 8 September.
  • Some trialling for new elements in the test is already in progress, and work is advanced on the new syllabus.
  • No changes will be made to the test until they may be assessed; and there will be a full programme of evaluation thereafter.
  • The Driving Standards Agency plan that young people will be able to start studying for a foundation qualification in safe road use from Autumn 2008. Other pieces of the programme – such as changes to the driving tests – could be in place within two or three years.

Proposals for changing the test

  • The theory test will be updated to test understanding of safe driving, and include case studies.
  • The hazard perception test will be reformed to encourage learners to take it when they have some on-road experience. The use of 3D animation clips instead of film is being considered.
  • The practical test will be changed by introducing independent driving when the candidate finds the route and ‘situational judgement’ when the candidate is asked to explain what they did in a situation and why.
  • The Driving Standards Agency is looking at splitting the theory and practical tests into modules, to enable learners to pass elements of the test as they learn. Re-takes could also be done in the same way.
  • Candidates will be offered better feedback at all stages of the test, whether successful or not.
  • The Driving Standards Agency is also exploring a new marking system for the practical test to make it more effective and consistent.

Improved learning and better information

The Driving Standards Agency will:

  • publish a new syllabus for safe driving;
  • produce a work book for learners to encourage driving experience in bad weather, at night etc.
  • introduce a star rating system for driving instructors. Learners will be able to use a website to get straightforward information about the quality of driving instructors – for example, trainee pass rates, training taken by instructors and the number of candidates an instructor has taken to test.
  • review the programme for driving instructor training and to focus on those areas of driving behaviour and performance that have the closest link to safe driving.

Additional learning and qualifications

  • The Driving Standards Agency is developing a certificate on safe road use for young people from age 14 to 16. A pilot is being worked up with Scottish Qualifications Authority, potentially available from the 2008/09 academic year.
  • The certificate on safe road use will cover the Highway Code, planning journeys, social attitude, peer pressure, fatigue, being safe on road, eco-driving. The aim is to make it an optional course available from age 14.
  • The Driving Standards Agency is developing a non-compulsory Attitude Advisor – a computer-based self-evaluation aid that helps make learners aware of their attitude towards risk and safety. Learners are asked to respond to questions about their reaction to different situations, allowing the programme to build up a profile of their overall attitude which can be used by the learner and instructor to improve their driving.
  • The Pass Plus scheme will be reviewed to create safer drivers and improve take-up (11% take up Pass Plus each year)
  • The Driving Standards Agency is working with organisations providing advanced training on a consistent standard for all post-test training.
  • Additional, vocational qualifications will be developed jointly with employers for people who want to drive for work e.g. covering loading, unloading, driving a van and customer service. These will be offered through awarding bodies rather like an NVQ.
  • New standards for post-test and driving for work training will be developed with employers and insurers.
  • Better information about driving instructors and improved instructor training
  • The Driving Standards Agency will introduce a star rating system so that learners will be able to access straightforward information about the quality of driving instructors: this will include customers’ pass rates, and the training instructors have received – as well as the instructor’s grade;
  • The Driving Standards Agency are already working with instructors’ organisations to review the way driving instructors are trained and tested, before they qualify and after they are registered.