Why letting learners onto motorways is such a good idea
Learner drivers will soon be allowed onto motorways, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. And not before time...
Mike Penning MP, Road Safety Minister, has already made big changes in the Department for Transport. He's stopped the publication of driving test routes, made sure only qualified driving instructors can teach pupils... but his latest shakeup is potentially one of his most significant commonsense moves yet.
From 2012, driving instructors will be able to take pupils onto the motorway for guidance and experience.
It's amazing that it's taken up to now for this to happen. Amazing because, as the Minister told us this week, it's more ridiculous for it not to be so. He illustrated why it was crazy by using the example of his daughter. She passed her driving test in St Albans, he explained. “But we live in Hemel Hempsted, on the other side of the M1.”
After passing her test, she could quite legally have then driven back home on her own – and, instead of crossing over the motorway, accidentally turned onto it and taken her first high-speed drive: yes, less than 5 minutes after passing her test.
For every moment of her time behind the wheel up to then, she had someone sat next to her, telling her where to go. Once she had that vital bit of paper, though, she was on her own. What's to stop her taking a wrong turn and then finding herself on the motorway?
Alien territory, how might she have coped? Would she, through fear, have done something rash? Would she have simply frozen, overwhelmed by this strange new type of road she'd never before driven on? And all because legislation didn't let her venture on there until she had passed a test conducted entirely on roads that were nothing like it. Nonsensical. That's why the Minister has relaxed the rules.
Lesson in panic avoidance
It's not legislation the other way, he explained. Motorway driving is not now compulsory. If it were, those in the Scottish Highlands would be driving for hours just to find a motorway. For some in the UK, it's not relevant, so it is not obligatory.
Instead, the idea is to encourage driving instructors to include some motorway work, where relevant. If a pupil lives near a motorway, part of a lesson may include a run on it – both to give them experience of it but, far more importantly, have someone sat next to them telling them exactly what to do.
Motorway driving is not necessarily complicated. They are straight, traffic flows linearly in the same direction, and junctions are both few and clearly marked. The trick is getting on, changing lane smoothly, looking far ahead and, crucially, not panicking and doing anything rash.
What's a fretful new driver more likely than most to do, though? Yes, panic, through not knowing what to do. Driving lesson motorway runs will, it is hoped, give them the bare basics to ensure this is not the case.
There is a common misunderstanding amongst Brits, that motorways are far more dangerous than they actually are. The reality is that they're the safest type of road in the country – according to Eurorap, they are typically four times safer than single carriageways.
However, in a big 2006 survey, Brits reported they assume motorways are almost as dangerous as single carriageway roads, the most dangerous type of road in the UK. Yes indeed: the 'best' type of road in the country is assumed to be as bad as the 'worst' type of road.
Why this is so is unclear: it could be the speeds involved, it could be high-profile motorway crashes that make news headlines... or it could just be fearful drivers worried by the false assumption and general misconceptions about motorway safety.
Whatever the root cause, it all creates an illusion that means many fear driving on motorways. They actively avoid it. When they do have to do it, they panic and drive with terror. Imagine how the Minister’s daughter would have felt if she'd have taken the wrong turning. Imagine if YOU had motorway anxiety and did the same?
Motorways are safe, yes, but 70mph speeds are unforgiving if someone is panicking. Things happen fast on them: it is not the place to risk freezing in fear. Which is why the latest move by the Department for Transport deserves so many plaudits.
People don't need to be trained in how to be expert motorway drivers. That comes with time and practice, as the basics are arguably far easier to pick up than navigating a city centre ring road.
No, what new drivers need is to have the fear factor of motorways taken away. By exposing them to it, giving them a taster, showing them that the motorway isn't something to avoid at all costs, the stress and anxiety that many have over them may just be mitigated.
It's the exposure theory – prove to people the danger is more assumed than real, and the terror quickly falls away.
Mike Penning MP may just have done the country's parents a favour. From next year, if his daughter were in the same situation after passing her test, and did stumble onto the motorway on her own, the fact she'd actually driven on one means the chances of her panicking and doing something rash would be much diminished.
She might not be the most accomplished person on the motorway, or the fastest, and she'd almost certainly pull off at the very next junction. But it's far more likely that she would cope, thanks to an experienced instructor showing her what to do during one of her lessons.
And really, you can't ask for any more, can you?
I do however support the view recently expressed by a senior Police Traffic Officer that the optional 'P' plate should become mandatory (1st year) as other drivers would be aware of the novice driver and (in a perfect world!) make allowances.
There must be some good drivers on our roads or the appalling one's would never survive, the actual act of driving seems to come way down the list of priorities ...after phone/sat nav/radio CD/Kids/crisps/pop/hair/make up/meal planning/reading delivery notes/watching DVD's etc...... Yes, give Me the 'thumbs down' by all means especially if you are guilty of any of the above including giving the finger to anyone who dares to remind you that your not as good behind the wheel as you think. Safe driving & have a good Christmas!!
I quite agree with this. I passed my test in march of this year on the 3rd go (failed on 'undue' hesitation in ice and snow, but I'm not bitter or anything.) and the first time I went 'driving' I went on the motorway from Southport to North Wales. Luckily I had my Dad in the car so I wasn't alone and had him for advice but I wish I'd had more experience with motorways first.
After having driven on motorways now, I don't find them that scary, I actually think they're easier to drive on than the rural B roads that surround my house, but before I passed my test, they were the most terrifying thing I could imagine, that stigma of fear needs to be removed before you become a real driver, not just a learner.
why not just make pass plus compulsory?
It may be that this new idea came about because the government is planning to do away with pass plus,why? this course covers various aspects including dual carriageway and motorway driving!
Not sure if I believe that supposed fear of motorways by new drivers for every nervous driver there seems to be many more totally full of it ie careless.
I suppose the only leveller will be when they realise that speeding round built up areas is relative slow compared to m way speeds.
They will also see 70mph was left many moons ago and plenty of white vans (unmarked) hitting a good 90 in the outer, fastest lane.
The best bit ,lots will rapidly copy is the sizeable percentage of drivers - old/young/company car big 4x4 whatever who seem to totally ignore any disciplines - I'm never sure if they are morons, dont know their vehicle or it capabilities or even their own, but they sure seem confused by high speeds and covering bigger distances quicker and having to be alert when making manouvres.
I reckon let new drivers go on m ways when they feel up to it, not make them.
Driving instructors are supposed to judge the competence of the learner and gauge when they are ready. I see regular cases where they evidently haven't with students travelling at 20mph on 40mph limit straight roads etc. but in fairness most seem to do this assessment well. If it is practical to go on the motorway in the later stages of learning to drive I think it should be done. There are areas where this is not realistic but others where getting to most places means getting onto one or more motorways.
P plates are an option and should remain so. I have seen too many cases where people have done stupid and dangerous things to pass new drivers who were following the law and far more competent than the moron passing them. Those who can drive don't but the minority make the plates risky especially during busy traffic.
Driving laws need a serious review, I have thought this since passing a bike test and realising this allowed me to drive some cars with no clue how. A situation still in place.
We need people to be able to use the roads they will encounter, if you are surrounded by motorways your lessons should be allowed to cover them.
i passed in 2008 and took pass plus which brought my insurance down £400 to £1869 for 1996 punto.
I went on the motorway for the first time, through long distance country lanes, congested city centres IE manchester and so forth with that qualification with my driving instructor.
Is was a much more relaxed approach compared to a normal driving lesson, we had the radio, talking, laughing, joking, the things you do when you actually drive, not in the often classroom style silence thatalot of instructors have. I learned more through pass plus than driving almost the same routes, the same test routes, than on my driving test and initial lessons.
Learners shouldn't be on the motorway unless they pass their driving test first, I say this because they dont have the skill or accreditation. It should be after their test, that way they have the confidence of knowing they've passed their test and are capable, instead of doing things wrong and being intimidated and possibly scared off driving.
Just my two cents on the issue, but learners should pass their test before motorway driving.
Some driving instructors do take thier newly passed drivers on the motor ways
This is going to open a whole new can of worms.
Only qualified instructors can take learners on motorways, the police will be having a field day pulling over cars with the little red “L” sign on it thinking they have bagged a criminal as NOT all instructors have an sign written vehicle to tell them apart from a parents standard vehicle with a “L” plate on.
So how are the police going to differentiate between a student’s parent or a qualified instructor. ?
Maybe use one of the millions of orange traffic cones we see abandoned on the motorways and paint a big red “D” on it so the police know.
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