Learning to drive: everything you need to know

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Whether you choose to practise with your parents first or go straight for a qualified driving instructor, learning to drive is a big step into the adult world and it will give you the freedom to go wherever you choose. 

So what do you need to do before you can hit the roads by yourself as a fully qualified driver? 

1. Get a provisional licence

First up you'll need to get a provisional driving licence. This costs £34 (price correct in March 2020) and it’s easiest to apply online, but you can also apply by post for £43. 

If you're keen, you can apply for your provisional licence when you're 15 years and nine months old. You’ll only be able to get behind the wheel from the age of 17, however.

Before you apply, make sure your eyesight meets the ‘standards of vision for driving’. This means you must be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away (while wearing your glasses or contact lenses if you need them to correct your vision). 

A provisional licence allows you to drive on all UK roads except motorways, but you must be accompanied by a driving instructor, family member or friend who’s:

  • Over 21 years old
  • Qualified to drive the type of vehicle you're learning in
  • Held a full driving licence for at least three years

Read our guide for more information on the rules of supervising a learner driver

You must also have L plates (or D plates in Wales) on display at the front and back of the car you're learning in. You can get up to six penalty points on your licence if you're caught driving without L plates, or if they’re the wrong size – not what you want on your shiny, new licence. These restrictions are lifted as soon as you pass your driving test, even if you haven't received your full licence yet.

2. Get some driving lessons

On average, learner drivers need around 45 hours of lessons with an instructor as well as 20 hours of practice.

Not sure whether to learn with your parents or a driving instructor first? We spoke to Karen Bransgrove from the Driving Instructors Association (DIA) for her take on this: “[Registered driving] instructors will know the current road traffic laws and driving practices. They're trained to teach you how to be safe on the road and they must go through regular tests to prove they're still up-to-date and qualified to teach.”

Read our guide to find out what else Karen had to say about learning to drive with a parent or a registered driving instructor

Whichever path you choose to take, there's no doubt that getting in some extra practise with your parents can help reduce the costs of learning to drive. Between lessons, learning materials and the tests, learning to drive can be quite expensive. To help you keep as much of your cash as possible, we've put together a guide on how much it costs to learn to drive.

If you're getting in some extra time behind the wheel with mum or dad, they should make sure their driving techniques are up-to-date so they're not contradicting what your driving instructor is telling you.

And if your parents want some top tips on how to help you pass your test, show them our guide for parents teaching their son or daughter to drive. We spoke to a driving instructor with 22 years' experience under his belt for his expert advice. 

When it comes to the best time of day to drive, it's a good idea to practise during the day and at night so you're confident driving in the dark as well. There's no curfew when you're learning to drive; as long as you're accompanied by an adult who matches the criteria above, you're free to hit the roads whenever you want.

You can also have passengers in the back - so if your little brother, sister, friend, aunt or uncle wants to come along and check out your driving skills, it's absolutely fine as long as that criteria-meeting adult is still sitting up front.

Do I need insurance when I'm learning to drive?

Yes, and you have a few options here. If you're lucky enough to already have your own car then you'll need your own insurance for that vehicle, but this could be an expensive option for new drivers.

On the plus side, you'll start building up your own No Claims Bonus right away, which will help you get cheaper cover. While you're learning, it would be a good idea to add a parent onto your policy as a named driver so they can drive your car if they ever need to during one of your lessons. It's important you don't put them as the main driver if this isn't true - this is called fronting and it's against the law. 

But if like most teens you're learning in mum or dad's car then you can get learner driver insurance which covers you in their car, and their No Claims Bonus won't be affected if you need to make a claim for any bumps or scratches. 

With Veygo by Admiral's Learner Driver Insurance you can choose instant cover from one hour to 180 days. No matter which option you choose, the cover finishes as soon as you pass your test.

Finally, you can be added onto mum or dad's policy as an additional driver but their No Claims Bonus won't be protected if you need to make a claim.

3. Pass the theory test

You'll need to pass your theory test before you can book your practical test. It currently costs £23 to sit the test and there are two parts to it:

  1. The multiple choice section
  2. The hazard perception section

You sit both parts on the same day and you'll find out whether you've passed or failed there and then. If it's a thumbs up, you'll be given your theory test pass certificate. 

4. Pass the practical test

Once you've got your theory test in the bag you can book your practical test. This costs either £62 or £75 depending on whether you want a midweek or weekend test. There are five parts to the practical test:

  1. Eyesight test
  2. 'Show me, tell me' vehicle safety questions
  3. General driving ability
  4. Reversing
  5. Independent driving

The test is the same for both manual and automatic cars and takes around 40 minutes. You can sit your driving test in your own car as long as it meets a number of requirements such as being taxed, and having no tyre damage or illuminated warning lights. 

As with the theory test, you'll find out there and then if you've passed or failed. And if it's a pass, you'll get another certificate!

No one wants to have to take their test more than once, but every year more than half of UK driving tests result in a fail. So make sure you're in the successful half of test takers by taking a look at the most common reasons for failing in our guide: What to do if you fail your driving test.

5. After passing your driving test

You can apply for your full driving licence as soon as you've passed your practical driving test and you should get it within three weeks. 

You can also choose to display green P plates for as long as you like to show you’ve just passed your test. If you’re in Northern Ireland, you must use R plates (restricted driver plates) for one year after passing your test. 

Learner driver insurance won’t cover you once you've passed your test so you'll need to arrange new cover. New and young drivers are considered 'high-risk' customers for insurers and often get a high insurance quote, which isn’t ideal when you're starting out.

If you're looking for a more affordable option, black box insurance could be your answer. It’s aimed at drivers who want to be recognised for their good driving habits and safe drivers can be rewarded with discounts on their premium. You'll also get feedback and advice on how to improve your driving.

You can also add a LittleBox policy to an Admiral MultiCar policy so you can save time and effort by covering all the cars in your household on one policy. Even better, you can get MultiCar discounts when you insure more than one car with us. Find out more about MultiCar Insurance

And what if you’ve passed your test but don't have a car? With Veygo by Admiral's Temporary Car Insurance you can keep on top of your driving skills and make the most of your new found freedom by borrowing a friend or family member's car, from one hour to 30 days.