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Guest Post: A Pandora’s Box of ‘L’ Plates: Learner Drivers on the Motorway

This summer, learner drivers will be allowed on Britain’s motorways for the first time, thanks to a change in legislation being introduced by the government.

The new rules are being brought in to address growing concerns about the number of younger drivers being killed on motorways. According to figures released by the Department for Transport, more than eighty drivers under the age of 21 were killed in motorway crashes between 2006 and 2010.

Under the current system learner drivers are unable practice motorway driving until after they have passed their tests. This means that on the very first occasion most new drivers gain first-hand experience of this potentially stressful environment, they are usually alone with no experienced instructor beside them to offer advice or assistance.

Guided Lessons

 Accidents on motorways that involve or are caused by new drivers and ultimately lead to claims for road accident compensation are often the result of panic over missing or nearly missing an exit or confusion about how and when to change from one lane to another. Giving learners lessons in motorway driving could significantly boost their levels of confidence, which is one of the things they lack when it comes to the ability to drive at high speed in a motorway environment.

Other drivers would instantly know if learners were receiving instruction and be able to give them a wide berth. Under the present system, other drivers have no way of knowing whether the person in front of them is an experienced motorway user or someone is trying out high-speed, multi-lane driving for the very first time.

Dual Control

The changes will not allow just any vehicle with learner plates to travel on the motorway. Only qualified driving instructors travelling in vehicles with dual control systems would be authorized. This means that the instructor will have plenty of opportunity to take control of the car in the event of the driver getting into difficulties. The move will also end the situation described the AA as ‘ludicrous’ in which a person can live next to a network of motorways but never experience driving on one until after their test.

However, the Road Haulage Association, which represents lorry drivers, believes that having learner drivers on the motorway could potentially lead to more accidents, even if the learners are accompanied by instructors. Rather than the current rules being relaxed, the Association would like to see them extended, with new drivers banned from motorways until they have gained a degree of experience.

 Driving Instructors

Statistically speaking, motorways are actually some of the safest roads in the country and because of this many driving instructors are fully supportive of changing the current rules. With all traffic travelling in one direction and no traffic lights, roundabouts or awkward junctions to negotiate, driving on a motorway is actually relatively straightforward.

However, the changes would not benefit all new drivers. Ministers have said they would not make lessons on motorway driving compulsory because for people living in rural areas travelling to a motorway within the time allotted for a lesson would simply not be possible. Similarly, with many driving-test centers located a considerable way from motorways, such lessons are unlikely to ever be made part of the driving test itself.

This post was written on behalf of Hughes Carlisle who are a specialist team of solicitors in Liverpool who are involved in a range of legal disciplines, including road accidents.

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