Learning to drive: the complete guide

The prospect of learning to drive is exciting but, in the beginning, the whole process can seem a bit daunting. After all, you’ve probably got a bunch of questions that need answering. 

How old do you have to be to learn to drive in the UK? Do you need insurance when you’re learning to drive? Are there any medical restrictions for learners? What’s the deal with booking theory and practical tests?

And aside from the practical sort of questions, we bet you're also wondering about what driving lessons with an instructor are like, how long it'll take you to learn to drive and what it will cost you.

We could go on. It’s intimidating, but we’ve got your back.

A 14-step guide to learning to drive

An action plan that covers all the rules, jobs and learning materials.

FAQs about learning to drive

Let's bring you up to speed with getting behind the wheel.

Step 1: Get that provisional licence

The first thing you need to do when you want to learn how to drive is make ensure that you’re legally allowed to take lessons in the first place. 

Basically, anyone can have lessons so long as they are 17 and hold a provisional license in either Great Britain or Northern Ireland. 

You can apply for a provisional license when you’re 15 years and 9 months old. It currently costs £34 and can be applied for online via the official Gov UK website.

Step 2: Some more housekeeping

Are you medically able to drive?

You can be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t tell the DVLA about a medical condition that affects your driving and you could face prosecution if such an issue causes an accident.

Every learner must meet the minimum eyesight rules. 

That means you need to be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away (and if you normally require glasses or contact lenses, they always need to be worn when you're driving). 

Aside from eyesight, check here to see if you have any health issues that will affect your driving. 

Step 3: Who will you have lessons with?

Let’s move onto preparing for the actual instruction itself. You might be deciding between having lessons with a driving school or with someone you know (or maybe planning on doing a bit of both).

If you want to practice driving with a friend or family member, make sure they're aged 21 or over and hold a full driving license (which they’ve held for at least 3 years).

The person accompanying you must also be qualified to drive the type of car you want to learn in - for example, they need a manual license if they’re supervising you in a manual car. 

Step 4: Rules about driving lessons

If you're a learner who wants to hit the road with someone you know at any stage, here are a couple of other rules you might be wondering about.

It’s illegal for your friend or family member to use a mobile phone while supervising you. In terms of passengers, you can drive with as many as the vehicle can legally hold.

You’ll need insurance if you’re practicing in a car that you actually own, but if you’re driving someone else’s car, check whether their policy covers you.

Most policies do, but it’s worth noting that some insurance companies require the person supervising to be over 25 years old.

And don't forget the car you’re learning in.

Your vehicle of choice must display L-plates at all times and be registered with the DVLA. It also needs to be fully taxed and roadworthy (with a current MOT certificate).

Step 5: The essential driving guide

It’s a good idea to grab the Highway Code as soon as you can. The Highway Code contains information, advice and mandatory rules for all road users in the United Kingdom.

You can buy a copy online or from most bookshops.

It has everything in it you need to know in order to pass both your theory and practical tests, but it will take some time to absorb the contents so start reading it immediately.

Step 6: Starting your lessons

Okay, now that the admin and the boring stuff is out of the way, it’s finally time to get behind the wheel, turn on the ignition and start driving. This is where the journey really begins.

That could be driving lessons with a friend or family member, or perhaps tuition from a qualified driving instructor. Of course, there's always the option of taking an intensive driving course.

And if you do that, that pass is just around the corner. 

Need more info on intensive courses?

Check out our free guide.

Step 7: Book your Theory Test

As you have more driving lessons and become a better driver, you should book your Theory Test.

Remember that you’re not allowed to take a practical test until you’ve passed a Theory Test and everything will take a while to sort out.

There are 2 parts to it. The first part is all about 50 multiple-choice questions and you’ll need to answer at least 43 of them correctly in order to pass.

The second section is all about the Hazard Perception Test.

You’ll watch 14 videos and score points for spotting hazards as they occur. There are 75 points up for grabs and you’ll need at least 44 to pass this part of the test.

Need help passing your Theory Test?

Check out our free guide.

Step 8: The nuts and bolts

The Theory Test takes place at a designated test centre, so it's not something that can be done on a whim. It's booked online and your test will take place on a particular date and at a specific time.

The test costs £23 to take and can be booked by going here.

There are 160 theory test centres nationwide and you can find out where your nearest one is by entering your postcode here.

Need more help? Check out our guide on how to pass your Theory Test?

Step 9: Other useful docs

You can prepare for the questions you’ll face by reading the Highway Code, listening to your driving instructor and by taking practice tests.

And while we're on the subject of studying, there are a couple of other documents that are worth investing in and reading - Know Your Traffic Signs and The Office DVSA Guide to Driving.

Step 10: Book your practical test

By now, you should be in good shape. Your driving skills are improving, your Theory Test is in the bag and the end is in sight.

When your instructor thinks you’re ready, it’s time to book in your practical test (with an intensive, the test will be at the end of the course).

The practical test costs £62-75, depending on whether you want a daytime, evening or weekend test.

11 essential tips for passing your test

Check out our free guide.

Step 11: Prepare for the big day

With your practical test looming, it’s a good idea to run through the Highway Code again and have a dummy test or two with your instructor. 

It's all about preparation from here on in. If you put the work in, you’ll probably find everything a breeze.

But this is a question of mentality. The test is there to ensure that you can drive confidently and safely – you can already do that, so try not to be nervous.

Remember that the driving examiner knows that you’ll be on edge; they’re not trying to catch you out.  This short video shows what to expect from a practical.

And look, if the worst happens and you fail your test, don't give up.

You're going to be disappointed, but we've got an action plan​ specifically for learners who have failed their test. We'll help you over the line.

Step 12: You've done it

Okay, so you’ve either breezed through your test or go there in the end… congratulations. You’re now legally able to drive in the UK. It's a huge accomplishment and something you'll remember forever.

You’ve got independence and freedom, so wave goodbye to jam-packed trains, tiring bikes and smelly buses – now you can drive wherever you want, whenever you like.

Step 13: Get a car

Of course, that's assuming that you've got a car. If you haven't, it's time to get saving.

But you know what? If you’re a new or young driver and you’re thinking of getting a new motor, take some time to think about the kind of vehicle that’s right for you.

There are lots of different models out there and no matter what your budget is, don’t go by colour or top speed. There's no rush.

Consider your strengths and weaknesses as a driver and you won’t go far wrong.

Step 14: Consider extra tuition

Is that the end of the journey?

We don’t think so. We think it’s just the beginning. Hopefully you’ll become a more skilled driver as you continue to get behind the wheel and see more stuff on the roads.

If you’d like to build on your driving knowledge, consider taking the Pass Plus course. This is an official course that can be taken any time. in your life. It lasts at least 6 hours and specifically expands on like hazard awareness and driving in different conditions.

As well as helping keep you safe, completing this course will save you money on your insurance with most companies. Find out more about the Pass Plus course here.

Frequently asked questions about learning to drive

Okay, so that's an action plan which covers the practical side of learning how to drive. Let's now cover off a few other things that you might be wondering.

What are driving lessons like?

This is the start of an exciting time. If you have traditional lessons with a driving instructor, then you'll have a jam-packed lesson for an hour or two every week.

You'll cover all the important elements of the syllabus, one thing at a time. Eventually, when your instructor thinks you're ready, he or she will suggest arranging for your test and then it's go-time.

However, bear in mind that reaching this stage might take a while. The stats show that most people take over a year before they're ready to take a practical driving test.

If you're taking an intensive driving course, things will move a lot quicker. You'll learn the same stuff, but depending on the course you choose, it's possible to learn to drive in a week.

What to expect from driving lessons

Check out our free guide.

How many driving lessons will I need?

I'm sure you're desperate to know how long takes to learn to drive. As you can imagine, the number of lessons a learner requires in order to pass their test varies hugely on the individual.

However, according to the latest statistics, most people buy 52 hours of professional lessons and take over 14 months to pass their test. 

Of course, you'll always find someone who nails their test after 10 lessons.

They do exist, but they're exceptions. Statistical anomalies. Just like the learners who have 100s of lessons and take dozens of tests... and still can't pass.

Fact is, 52 hours is the national average in the UK. And all things being equal, that's the ball-park figure that you should be aiming for.

But if that seems like a long time, there are other options. Consider the nature of the tuition. That average is for learners who have lessons with the an instructor at regular intervals.

Like weekly.

If you were to take a crash course that was specifically designed to engineer a quick pass, you can save lots of time and money. 

Quite simply, intensives build up driving knowledge and skill in a way that weekly lessons can't.

What is the average cost of learning to drive?

Are you wondering how much driving lessons cost? Driving lessons prices vary somewhere between £20-£35 depending on where you live in the UK, with the national average being £24.

Obviously the cost of learning to drive depends on how many lessons and tests you end up taking, but we can work out an approximate figure to use as a rough guide.

Most UK learners require 52 hours of lessons, so that's 52 x £24 = £1,248 for the tuition. On top that, you've also got fees for the Theory Test and practical test (assuming you pass first time.

Since most learners will take over a year to become test-ready, a lot of people opt for an intensive driving course instead. You'll learn the same stuff, but it'll only take about 40 hours for a total beginner (saving a significant amount of money).

Given that intensive courses usually comprise of 4-hour sessions per day, they'll also save you a lot of time. A 40-hour crash course can be completed in 2 weeks.

And remember that these courses come with a test, too.

Want to learn more about intensives?

Check out our free guide.

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