Learning how to drive is a universal rite of passage for adolescents in every corner of the globe. It may be your first driving lesson with your driving instructor who is barking out instructions whilst you clutch the steering wheel at ten and two. Or it could be your first parental led tutorial with terrified parent in the passenger seat gripping the ceiling handle, simultaneously regretting the decision to teach their first born to drive and fearing for both of your lives. Either way, the journey taken to learn how to drive is an important part of growing up. But with the financial burden of buying a car, and the general irregularity of teenaged life, when is the best time to learn how to drive?
The Law as it Stands
In terms of UK law, you can apply for a provision licence when you are 15 years and nine months old but can only start driving when you have turned 17. If you get or have applied for the enhanced rate of the mobility component of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), you can drive a car when you are 16. The PIP is a new Government allowance which is gradually replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
There are two methods in which you can learn how to drive - you can be taught by a qualified and approved driving instructor (ADI) or trainee driving instructor, or by your family and friends. Anyone you practise driving with must:
- Be over the age of 21
- Be qualified to drive the type of vehicle you are learning in
- Have had a full driver’s licence for three years
You can be fined up to £1,000 and get up to six penalty points on your provisional licence if you are caught driving without the right supervision. It is also important to note at this stage that you must be insured if you are practising either in your own car or someone else’s car. If it’s your own car then you must have your own insurance as a learner driver, and if you are driving in someone else’s car you need to make sure their insurance policy covers you as a learner driver. If you are caught driving without insurance you can get an unlimited fine, be banned from driving and get up to eight penalty points.
Young Driving Programmes
If the itch to get behind the wheel is strong enough for the youngest of ambitious motorists, there are driving programmes designed for even younger people. There are two prominent examples of such courses which run nationwide. The first is the ‘Young Driver’, a programme which partners with Vauxhall in which 10-17 year olds can purchase safe and controlled driving lessons, perfect if you want to learn how to drive before you are able to get your licence. The second programme is ‘Young Drive!’, a fast-paced driving experience for those aged 11 or older, allowing youngsters to get behind the wheel of a Mini and take it around one of a selection of tracks.
The driving programmes are alternatives for young drivers but are ultimately for personal gain. The minimum driving age is set in law here in the UK but is not a global standard. In America for example, applying for a learner’s permit is state dependent, but a few examples are: Alaska – 14 years old, Florida - 15 years old and New York - 16 years old. In Spain the minimum driving age is 18. In Estonia it is 16 and in El Salvador it is 15 years old. The stark difference between the minimum driving ages across the world shows a disparity between when different cultures believe it suitable to allow a young person to get behind the wheel.
If you have succeeded in overcoming your nerves on test day, and your invigilator in their high-viz jacket breaks the silence by letting you know you’ve passed, getting insured is not necessarily smooth sailing. Young drivers, namely the 17-19 year olds, are seen by insurance companies as having a much higher risk potential. This assumption is not made without some statistical justification. Data shows that 23% of 18-24 year olds crash within two years of passing their driving test. Additionally, one in five people killed on British roads last year died in an accident involving a motorist aged 17-24. These glum stats are usually attributed to the inexperience in young drivers: their overconfidence, poor assessment of hazards and prevalent risk taking. The financial burden of driving after passing your test is one of the most prominent deterrents young people face when deciding when to learn how to drive. However, this is always going to be true for new drivers, and given the opportunity to build up a no claims bonus and gain experience on the road, costs and risks are both reduced over time.
Is the Legal Minimum Age Suitable?
Taking this all into account, one question when it comes to teaching young people to drive is whether the legal minimum age is suitable. Clearly there will never be a set adolescent age in which youngsters turn into mature and sensible drivers, on their 16th birthdays for example. There is an inability to determine how a young driver will take to the road without the reassurance of a driving instructor or a parent, so a universal minimum age seems an impossible prospect to get absolutely correct. There have been calls from various motoring organisations, including road safety charity IAM Roadsmart, to integrate young driver programmes into the National Curriculum in schools nationwide, in an attempt to counteract the apparent inexperience these individuals have when they pass their test. But with stories in the news revealing that over 1,000 underage drivers have been caught speeding in the last year, with some drivers being as young as eight years old, simply implementing the programmes into schools may be too simplistic of a solution.
Things to Consider Before Deciding to Learn
However, despite the law, statistics and opinion around the issue, the final decision ultimately comes down to the driver. There are several aspects to consider when deciding whether to learn how to drive, or to start teaching someone. The first and most simple is whether or not you need to drive. Do you live in a busy city or an area with ample public transport accessibility? Could you get around without the expense of maintaining a car, applying for a young person’s railcard for example? Are you moving out soon, is university on the horizon? Will you need your car when you leave to study in another city? If you pass your test, how soon will you be on the road? Your lessons may be fresh in your mind now, but will it be in three years’ time?
The second is whether you can bear the financial burden of learning to drive and then buying and insuring a car. This is not cheap feat and must be a serious part of your consideration as to whether you decide to learn or not. Have you thought about any work arounds to still be able to drive without your own car? Getting put on your parent’s insurance policy, for example?
The motoring universe is vast and probably quite daunting for a new driver, but taking the time to make an informed and serious decision on whether or not it is the right time to begin learning to drive will make the world of difference.