Learning to drive: the complete step-by-step guide

The prospect of learning to drive is exciting but, in the beginning, the whole process can also 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's all going to cost you at the end of the day.

 

We could go on.


It’s intimidating, but thanks to us, you can rest easy - we’ve got your back.


First of all, we've created a 14-step guide on learning to drive in 2019 to cover all the boring rules and regulations.


Yup, we think we can summarise the entire learning experience from start to finish in just 14 simple and methodical moves. From insurance to legal requirements, health checks to test requirements, we’ve covered every angle to put your mind at rest.


And we've even included all the instructions, learning materials and third-party websites you'll need to get the job done.


But there's more. Under the step-by-step guide, we've also tried to answer the most common questions that we get asked from learners.

 

Essentially, whatever kind of help you need, this article will bring you totally up to speed on what's required to learn how to drive and pass your test. 

14 steps to independence and freedom

1.

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.

2.

Time for some more housekeeping. Are you medically able to drive? 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.


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.

3.

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. 

4.

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).

5.

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.

6.

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.


And of course, if you’re taking an intensive driving course, that pass is just around the corner. Remember that it's possible to learn to drive and pass your test in just 5 days.

7.

As you have more driving lessons and become a better driver, you should book your theory test. This is because 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.


The theory test takes place at a designated theory test centre, so it's not something that can be done on a whim.


You book it online and your test will be scheduled to take place on a particular date and at a specific time.


The test costs £23 and can be booked by going here (but if you’re taking one of our intensives, we’ll arrange and pay for your test).


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

8.

Let's expand on the theory test. 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.

9.

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 Official DVSA Guide to Driving

10.

Okay, we're making serious progress. 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.


But again, if you’re learning to drive on one of our courses, we’ll take care of everything by organising and paying for your test. 

11.

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. Chances are, you’ll probably find the test a breeze.


It's all about preparation from here on in.


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 you what to expect from your practical.


And look, if the worst happens and you fail your test, don't give up. You're going to be disappointed, but check out our action plan that's specifically for learners who have failed and want to pass. We'll help you over the line.

12.

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.

13.

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.

14.

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.

Okay, so that's the more practical side of learning how to drive addressed. The nuts and bolts, if you like. Let's now cover off a few other things.


What are driving lessons like?


They're great. Okay, so you're gonna get some first driving lesson nerves, but everyone has to learn at some stage. 


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.


Eventually, when your instructor thinks you're ready, he or she will suggest arranging for your test and then it's go-time. However, this might take a while. Most people take over a year before they pass their practical driving test.


Alternatively, if you're taking an intensive driving course, things will move a lot quicker. Depending on the course you choose, it's possible to learn to drive in a week.


Is the first driving lesson really scary?


The thought of learning to drive for the first time is much scarier than the reality. It's perfectly natural to feel a little anxious. 


However, bear in mind that driving instructors have seen it all before. And if you use one of our team, they're trained to ascertain your comfort level, skill and experience really quickly. That means you'll always be learning at a pace that's right for you.


How should I prepare for my first driving lesson?


Preparing for driving lessons is common sense, really. Don't drink any alcohol in the previous evening, try to get a good night's sleep beforehand and eat some breakfast.


Pick out comfortable clothes so that you'll be relaxed and wear flat-heeled, non-slip shoes or trainers so that you can feel the pedals easily.


Bring glasses or contacts if you have them and remember to take your provisional licence to your lesson so that you can show it to your instructor - they'll need to see it for legal reasons.  


What can I expect from my first driving lesson?


Well, you'll be picked up by your instructor either at your home, college, place of work or from wherever you've arranged.


Before you do anything, your instructor will put you at ease and ensure that you're comfortable. 


Then their first job is to go over the DSSSM cockpit drill. This is the sequence of actions that every driver should make each time they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. DSSSM stands for:


  • Doors - are they securely closed?
  • Seat - is it in comfortable position?
  • Steering position - has it been established?
  • Seatbelts - are they on?
  • Mirrors - have they been adjusted?

Next, he or she will make you familiar with how a car works. They'll talk to you about the accelerator, brakes, indicators, clutch and gear stick (if you're learning in a manual car), windscreen wipers and all the different buttons. You'll also learn about the dashboard.


Depending on how long your first driving lesson lasts for, it might be time to get moving. This can seem a little scary, but it's also pretty exciting.


And anyway, it will be a fairly gently introduction to driving - you'll probably stall and that's just fine. You certainly won't be racing around like Lewis Hamilton (although going 20mph feels like 200mph the first time you do it).


You'll begin to get to grips with the basic skill required to get a car moving from a stationary position, speeding up and slowing down. You'll probably cover gentle acceleration, clutch control, changing gears, braking and using the handbrake.


If you're having a driving lesson that lasts an hour or two, then that's probably all you'll have time for. Your instructor will drop you off at your agreed location, have a quick chat about how it went and then schedule another session.


Of course, if you're taking an intensive driving course, you'll only be just starting. That's because most intensives require pupils to learn for 4 hours a day for as long as the course lasts.


Regardless, after the first session is out the way you'll be relieved. And you'll be surprised at how much calmer you'll fee for the rest of your driving lessons.


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 average cost of learning to drive depends on how many lessons and tests you end up taking, but let's work out a rough figure assuming you take conservative figures for lesson rates, lesson volume and only taking one weekday driving test.

What you need

The price

Provisional licence

£34

Lessons

£1,248

Theory test

£23

Practical test

£86

Approximate tota​l

£1,391

That's quite a lot of cash


And remember, that's £1,391 in the best case scenario. That's assuming that your driving instructor charges an average price, that you take an average amount of lessons to learn and that you pass all your tests first time.


In reality, instructors charge random amounts and some will be really expensive. You might need a lot of lessons a few tests too, which is why some companies estimate that learners will need to pay upwards of £1,600 and, in some cases, as much as £3,000.


How can I cut the cost of learning to drive?


£1,391 seems like a lot of money, especially when you consider that you might not pass your test first time. Or second time. Or third, perhaps.


Aside from practising as much as you can with friends and family, the best way to save money when you're learning to drive is by taking an intensive driving course.


If you were to take one of our courses, you wouldn't need to pay for so many lessons.


For instance, our pass-in-a-week course costs £1,199 and you'd have 5 days of tuition, each with 4 hours of lessons. We'd also pay for both your theory test (if required) and your practical test too, so there are no hidden costs.


Plus, whilst we can't guarantee a pass, the pass rates for intensives are super-high so this is as sure as you'll ever be. And seeming as this kind of intensive will give you back a year or so of your life, what's not to like?


Which car is better for lessons - manual or automatic?


It's easier to drive an automatic car. Automatic cars have no gears, which means no clutch. In turn, that also means no clutch control skills, no biting points and no tricky hill starts.


But that doesn't always mean it's the better option. Automatic driving lessons and automatic intensive driving courses are slightly more expensive and when you pass you're test, you're not allowed to drive a manual car.


And that's fair enough. You can't go from driving around in an automatic to suddenly having to change gears to speed up or slow down.


Now, not being able to drive a manual car might not sound like a big deal, but it could prove to be a pain in some (unforeseen) circumstances. For instance, suppose your car breaks down - automatic cars are rarer and you might not be able to get a replacement very easily. 


Or what if you're on holiday and you'd like to rent a car? All of sudden, you've got to find somewhere that has automatics as opposed to just wandering in any old place and hiring whatever car you fancy.


Don't forget that if you pass your manual test, you're legally allowed to drive either a manual or automatic (despite the fact that you haven't learned to drive in one). 


You get the choice. And because passing your manual test means you can always go down the automatic route later, it seems like learning to drive in a manual car is a more logical approach.


We'd only recommend having driving lessons in an automatic if you're low on confidence or you've got a specific reason for doing so (like you know for a fact you're only going to be driving an automatic car once you've passed your test).


But you know what? We also think that manual cars are way cooler. All the best things have gears. Formula 1 cars, mountain bikes... you name it.


Should you consider private driving lessons, lessons with a driving instructor or both?


This is a very personal decision. Obviously if you're taught how to drive by a friend or family member, you save money. But due to the emotional dynamics, this kind of thing can test the best of relationships and it can be hard to learn as quickly as you would with an instructor.


Lessons with a driving instructor is generally always advised (whether that's via regular sessions or an intensive course. From technical ability to driving experience, instructor's know how to get pupils to a point where they can pass their test. It's their job. It's what they do.


However, like it is when you learn anything in life, practise is important. Therefore, maybe a combination of the two is best?


Tips for learning to drive


Our number one tip for learning to drive would be to accept that this probably isn't going to be easy. Just by mentally accepting this, you'll automatically become a better beginner driver.


Learning to drive will take commitment, hard work and lots of practise. Study the Highway Code, read up on driving tips and pay attention to what's going on whenever you're in a car (whether you're driving or not).


The next time you get a lift anywhere, keep an eye on what other drivers are doing well and what they aren't. Try to spot hazards as they arise and see if you can start anticipating stuff.


And finally, don't dwell on any mistakes; making errors is unavoidable.


Remember that you're not simply preparing for a test - you're trying to develop life-long driving skills and this is a long-term game. 


So, there you have it. 


Hopefully we've answered all the questions about learning to drive that you were afraid to ask.


If there's something we've not covered, please get in touch right away. We'll be happy to answer anything else that's on your mind.


But with just 14 steps to conquer before you're legally able to drive, freedom and independence is closer than you think.

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