Advice for Learning to Drive

You cannot start to learn to drive a car until your provisional driving licence has been accepted and is in your possession. Generally you won't be able to learn to drive until you are 17, but if you are in receipt of the higher rate of disability allowance you can start to learn how to drive when you reach your 16th birthday. You are allowed to apply for your licence up to 2 months before your licence is due to start. But you are not allowed to drive on the road until your licence has arrived and not until you have turned 17 (or 16 if that applies to you.) To apply you will need to fill in an application form, which you can get from most post offices - it is a D1 form.

Finding an instructor and booking a lesson

When you are looking for an instructor it is worth asking friends and family first to see if they can recommend anyone. Take advice from people who have recently passed their test, but remember that everybody learns in different ways, so whoever was good for your sister or neighbor may not be the best person for you.

If there aren't any that people can recommend, there will be lots in the phone book. Ring up plenty of driving schools or check online for local instructors. Remember to ask what type of car they use (manual or automatic), what length of lessons they offer, when they are offered (evenings/weekends), the price per hour, any student discounts or discounts for multiple bookings and anything else you might want to know. It's your money, so you deserve to get the best service. If you aren't entirely sure about one instructor or school, book one lesson with them and see how it goes. Don't get persuaded into booking a block of lessons in one go. Whilst you will often save money in the long term, if you decide you want to swap after a couple of lessons with them, you might not be able to get all of your money back.

Directgov now has the facility to let you find your nearest Approved Driving Instructor (ADI). The ADIs listed are fully qualified instructors, who have signed up to both the voluntary code of conduct and to continuing professional development. If someone has recommended an instructor to you, check Directgov to see if they are listed.

ADIs also go through regular assessments to make sure that they are teaching to the required standard. They can be graded from one to six, with six being the best. Most ADIs average a grade four or five. Don't be afraid to ask your ADI to show you their most recent result, if it's a good result, they should have nothing to hide.

For every ten decent instructors, there will be one who just wants your money and isn't tremendously concerned with preparing you for your test. Do be wary when looking at independent instructors as while some can be pretty good and offer reasonable prices, some are quite dodgy and at the right time will snag your cash and give you a hard time to get it back.

There are a lot of questions on TSR regarding whether AA or BSM are better than other driving schools. There is always going to be mixed opinion. AA and BSM, along with other driving schools and individual instructors have to pass the various parts needed to come an instructor. AA only employ fully qualified instructors (with a green badge), while some other schools may only employ partly qualified instructors (with a pink badge). This does not mean learning with AA/BSM guarantees high quality teaching. There are good instructors and bad instructors anywhere you go, so use your own discretion.

Most instructors will have dual control, which means they can use the clutch and brake if you don't. They can also use the gear stick and handbrake from their side of the car, and will even turn the wheel if necessary, so don't let concern for losing control of the car overwhelm you in lessons. Instructors should be equally calm, understanding and patient. If they are experienced, nothing you do will shock them, they've seen it all before! If your instructor gets angry or impatient when you make mistakes and this makes you uncomfortable or anxious, do not continue taking lessons with them.

In conclusion, finding the right instructor is imperative to passing your test. Do your research and choose wisely and you could be one step closer to becoming a qualified driver.

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The First Lesson

Generally, the first lesson will be spent on quiet roads learning the basics of the car. If you already know how to do this then tell your instructor, but if you don't, they will explain how various part of the car work e.g. brake, clutch, accelerator, gearstick, handbrake, indicators, lights. They will show you how to start the car, move off and drive around quiet roads learning how to handle the vehicle.

Learning to drive

The DSA quote that it takes about 40 hours on average for people to learn to drive, but some people take less time and some people take more. 40 lessons can be quite expensive, so if you can get practice in private, do so. However long you take, you will get there in the end if you stick at it!

During the lessons you will learn all the things that you need to pass your test. You will learn how to turn left and right, deal with big junctions, learn how to tackle roundabouts, dual carriageways, country roads, busier roads etc. You will also learn the maneuvers needed for your test, which are:

  • Turn in the road, commonly known as three-point turn
  • Parallel or reverse park
  • Reverse around a corner
  • Emergency stop

A less common maneuver you may be taught is the bay park, which depends on the test centre you will be using - they don't all require it. See the links and info below about the maneuvers.

Driving with parents

A lot of people will want to drive outside of lessons, but be aware that things will have changed a lot since your parents passed and they may inadvertently teach you their bad driving habits. If you want to drive your parents car on public roads, you will need to be insured to drive it, display L plates on the car and can only drive with a sober over 21 who has held a full licence for 3 or more years.

Theory Test

You can take your theory test if you are aged 17+ and possess a valid provisional licence. If you pass the test, your certificate will only be valid for 2 years, so it's best to take it as you are learning to drive or will be starting fairly soon afterwards. The test is often easier if you have had some driving lessons prior to taking it as you will already be aware of basic rules of the road, signage and road markings and will have begun to develop some sense of hazard awareness.

The theory test currently costs £25, which is usually paid by debit card.

There are two parts to the test, a set of multiple choice questions (pass mark 43/50) and a hazard perception test (pass mark 44/75).

Multiple Choice Questions

You will be asked 50 out of a possible 1000 questions in this part of the theory test. This means the range of questions will be different for each person and each time that they take it. Although the test will not be split, the general categories they fall into include:

  • Alertness
    • Testing your observational skills and road safety
  • Attitude
    • Testing your consideration and courtesy towards other drivers
  • Safety and your vehicle
    • Testing your knowledge of a vehicle and how to detect faults/defects
  • Safety margins
    • Testing your understanding of road surfaces and weather conditions
  • Hazard awareness
    • Testing your ability to anticipate and plan for a hazard in the road
  • Vulnerable road users
    • Testing your attitude towards vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, children, motorcyclists etc.
  • Other types of vehicle
    • Testing your safety and courtesy towards a range of alternative vehicles such as lorries and motorcycles
  • Vehicle handling
    • Testing your knowledge of how external factors e.g. the weather affect handling of a vehicle
  • Motorway rules
    • Testing your understanding of the differences between motorways and normal roads
  • Rules of the road
    • Testing your knowledge of speed limits, lane discipline, parking etc.
  • Road and traffic signs
    • Testing your recognition of road and traffic signs
  • Documents
    • Testing your knowledge of the variety of documents road users must possess e.g. license, insurance, MOT certificate
  • Accidents
    • Testing your knowledge of basic first aid and how to deal with road accidents
  • Vehicle loading
    • Testing your understanding of how loading a vehicle e.g. towing affects driving

The best practice for this section is to buy practice CDs and/or books and work through them. It would also be helpful to get a copy of The Highway Code, which outlines in detail the rules of the road and a selection of road signs and markings.

Hazard Perception

In this section, you will be shown a number of video clips which depict at least one hazard. The objective is to click whenever you see the hazard developing. A hazard is something which would typically cause you to change your speed or direction while driving e.g. a parked car, wet roads, children running across the street and so on.

You should avoid clicking too much, or in a pattern as this can cause you to fail. Click when you see a hazard ahead and then again when you get closer to it. For example, you are coming up to a parked car, click. Now, a number of different situations can develop e.g. the car may move away or someone could open the door etc. When you get closer to it, click again to signify you have recognised these situations.

Do note that the majority of CDs you can buy to practice this section aren't worth the money. The actual test is often much easier than the practice CD, which can be temperamental and difficult to use.

Useful Websites

These site have hazard perception clips free & not free

Tells you everything you need to know about the Theory Test

Book your test online Book Your Theory Test

I HAVE USED AN APP CALLED miDrive which lets you track your lessons, find an instructor and practice theory


These can be hard to explain as everybody seems to learn them in different ways and different 'methods' work differently in different cars. There are 3/4 manoeuvres that you will need to learn, depending on your test centre. You will also learn how to carry out an emergency stop. There is the turn in the road (not a three point turn - you can do it in more than three!), reverse round the corner, parallel park, and they may be a bay parking exercise depending on your test centre.

The most important thing with all of these really is to take them slowly so that you have time to correct things if they start to go wrong, and to do plenty of observations. I have put some links below for more information about each one.

Bay Parking

Just in case you aren't sure what this means (I certainly hadn't heard of the term before!), this is just normal parking into a marked space (e.g. in a supermarket car park). Not all test centres ask for this manoeuvre, but either way, it's very useful to know it, as this is probably the most common manoeuvre you will need to do in everyday life.

Reverse Bay Park - Diagonal Park Method | miDrive

TSR - Bay Parking

Turn in the road

Although this is commonly known as a three-point turn, it is unlikely you will take exactly three turns to complete it on every occasion, so don't feel pressured to stick to a set number of turns if it is unfeasible to do so.

Turn in the road

Turn in the road

Turn in the road

Video clip of turn in the road

Reverse around a corner

This is hard to explain how to do without being in a vehicle as there are a wide variety of corners which require your initiative to deal with. Basically, you will pull up before the corner and shown where you need to reverse into. You then drive just beyond it and reverse turning into the side road - going around the corner. You need to avoid hitting the kerb as you go round, but trying not to go too wide either. When you get around the corner you will need to straighten up so that the car is fairly close to the kerb!

Tight Corner

Sweeping corner

Reverse around a corner

Video clip of reverse round a corner

Parallel or reverse park

This involves pulling up parallel to a car and reversing backwards, turning the car into the space behind the parked car (e.g. if you were parking on the side of a street). The main points of error are turning in too close to the car you are parking behind, touching the kerb or ending up too far from it.

Reverse Parking

Reverse Parking

Parallel Parking

Video clip of reverse park

Emergency Stop

This involves stopping abruptly as if you were faced with an emergency right in front of your car e.g. a child running out into the road. One of the main faults people face rushing to move off again after stopping and forgetting to carry out proper observations. This means checking both blind spots and all your mirrors as you would if you were moving off normally.

Emergency Stop

Practical Test

Driving Test Tips

You cannot book this until you have taken and passed your theory test, you must then take it within 2 years of this as your theory cert will expire. Talk to your driving instructor about when you think you should put in for it. Everybody will be different and you don't want to rush it too much and end up wasting money and knocking your confidence by failing when you shouldn't have taken it. Having said that, a lot of people find that the first test is good experience and helps them to know what to expect if they have to do it again.

It is currently £62.00 for a weekday test and £75 for a weekday evening or Saturday test.

The day of your test

When you go for your test you need to take, your theory test pass certificate and both parts of your driving licence (photocard and paper counterpart.) If you have changed your name etc since they were issued you need to take proof/evidence of that. You don’t need to take it, but it is probably worth taking the letter or printout with the time, date and place of your test on it. Check this to make sure that you know what time you need to be there! If you have lost any part of your licence or your theory cert you could risk turning up without it and hoping you will be OK – but in general I don’t think you will be allowed to take your test. 0870 0101372 seems to be the phone number that you need to ring to ask about any missing or incorrect documents.

If you are having a lesson before your test then make sure that your instructor knows what time your test is (and where it is.) If you are taking the test in your own car, make sure that it is fit for being used in a test (check the regulations which are on the DSA website.) Also, make sure that you know where the test centre etc is, and that you will be able to get there in time - maybe have a practice run before hand (at a similar time to your test) so you know how long it will take you to get there. Also, if you are taking your test in your own car make sure that there is someone who can come with you in your car to the test centre.

You are allowed to ask for a friend or your instructor to sit in on your test if you want, but they must not interfere in any way. They will have to sit in the back of the car and won’t talk during the test. I did this on one of my tests and both me and my instructor found it helpful. I had failed a several tests by this point, and my instructor didn’t know why as I was driving well in lessons. It meant that he could see what I was doing wrong on my test, and in future lessons he could help explain that to me better.

Taking your test

When you get to the test centre you will wait for your examiner to call your name. Then you have to show him/her your photocard and paper part of your licence and you theory cert. If you have had a change of name/address etc to what is on these then take evidence of this. You will be asked to sign the test sheet which is saying that the car is insured for the purpose of the test (if its an instructors car it will be, if its you own then check with your insurance company.) They will then ask you to take them to your car. They will give you the information about your test (which its sounds like they have learnt off by heart) "the test is 38-40mins and will take in a variety of roads and situations...." On the way they will ask you to read a number plate at the set distance, if you get this wrong you get a couple more chances, but if you can't get it right then thats it - you can't take your test. Make sure you try this before, I struggled on my first test and had to work the letters out - got my eyes tested before my next test and found I needed glasses!

Show Me, Tell Me Questions

You will then have the show me/tell me questions (one of each) the list of these is on the DSA website [1]. If you can't do them, its only a minor, so don't worry too much! You can then get in your car and sort your seat etc out whilst the examiner starts to fill their sheet in (car reg etc.) They will explain that they want you to follow the road ahead unless they tell you otherwise. They will then tell you that you may move away when you are ready. Make sure that you use mirrors (and indicators if they are needed) a lot of people forget this in their rush to move away.

The Test

You will be asked to do one manoeuvre during the test and maybe the emergency stop. If you are asked to do the emergency stop you will be warned before hand, so don't worry about them suddenly springing it on you. But you need to be alert still as you may need to do an unplanned one if (for example) a child runs into the road etc. There is loads of advice people can give during the test. All of which is easier said than done at the time!

Drive how you have been taught, don't go over the speed limit for roads, but try and do the limit - if it is safe to do so. You won't impress the examiner by driving slowly. Make sure that you check mirror often. They will ask you to pull in at the side several times during the test (sometimes on a hill, or close behind a parked vehicle etc) and then ask you to move away. Make sure you check your mirrors (and blind spot) for this, indicate when you are going to move out (if there are any cars nearby) don't just stick an indicator on and wait for someone to let you out. If you are moving away on a hill, make sure you get the bite - and don't roll!!

When you do the manoeuvres, take your time (and do plenty of observations,) but don't take forever over them! If you start to go wrong try and correct it, you will probably only get a minor for control. If you carry on and mount the kerb, then you will fail. Make sure you watch what other cars are doing - they will often wait for you, then when there is a big enough gap try and squeeze past - just stop and let them get on with it!

When you are at busy junctions/roundabouts etc don't rush into going when you shouldn't. If you don't go when you could have done, you will probably only get a minor for hesitation. If you go when you shouldn't have done then you will probably fail for it.

If you think you did a mistake at the beginning, don't worry about it and always hope for the best. Just drive as if nothing happened, because your mistake might not have failed you necessarily and it might just have been a minor.

After you have passed your test

Well done, you've passed! With the new licenses, they will take your photocard off you and send it away for a replacement. If you have a slightly older license, you will have to send it off for replacement yourself (for a fee). If you send it off yourself then you will need to send the paper part, photocard, cheque for the fee and your pass certificate.

You are allowed to drive as soon as you have received the pass certificate, you don't need to wait for your new licence. You just need to make sure that you are insured to drive the car you'll be driving.

Probationary Period

When you have passed your driving test you will be subject to a two year probationary period. This applies to anyone driving on a licence issued by the DVLA. The two year period begins on the day you first pass the practical test - not when you first drive a car after you have passed your test.

If during the probationary period, you are convicted of driving offences for which six or more penalty points are awarded, your licence will be revoked. If your full driving licence is revoked, you will be treated as if you never passed a driving test. To continue driving, you will have to get a provisional driving licence again and drive with L plates until you have passed both the theory and practical parts of the driving test again.

You cannot appeal the revocation of your licence. However, you can appeal against the conviction or sentence which brought the number of penalty points up to 6 or more, you can apply to the DVLA to have your licence restored pending the result of the appeal. If the court notifies the DVLA that the sentence is under appeal, the full licence should be restored without a further test. There is no minimum period for which the licence must be revoked. As soon as you have passed both the theory and practical parts of another driving test, you can apply for a new full licence. However, the penalty points will remain on the driver’s licence for four years from the date of your offence. After four years you can ask the DVLA to have them removed from your licence.

  • In Northern Ireland the probationary period is only one year in which you are required to display orange R plates on the front and back windows and maximum speed you can travel at (even on motorway) is 45 mph.