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Learning to Drive - A Step-by-Step Guide to the Theory and Practice


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Learning to drive in the UK is a costly exercise. This guide outlines some of the most common expenses a young driver will face as they work up to passing their tests, how to reduce some of these costs, and other hints and tips to gaining a full driving license.

Finding a Driving Instructor

Word of mouth is always a good way to find a suitable instructor; however, if this isn't possible, you can try looking online at various instructor/school websites. Find some in your area and give each one a call, and remember to ask whether they are fully qualified or a trainee. Trainee instructors have to display a pink triangle in their windscreen and on their licence; fully qualified instructors must display a green octagon. A good instructor will be happy to answer any questions you may have, and be able to reassure you if you're nervous about getting behind the wheel for the first time.

The cost of a driving lesson will vary between instructors, but the average price usually falls between £20 and £25 for an hour-long lesson. The DVLA state that the majority of people who have passed their test recently have had between 40 and 45 hours of professional training, which means you could potentially spend £800 - £1125 on lessons alone.

Some instructors offer a bulk booking of 10 lessons for a fixed price; these are usually good value but try to have one or two single lessons with the instructor first. If you don't get on with him/her and have to stick to a pre-agreed number of lessons, it may make your driving experience less than enjoyable.

The car your instructor uses can make a difference to your driving experience too. Most instructors will use a smaller car such as a Corsa or Peugeot, but occasionally a larger car will be offered. If you feel uneasy at the thought of driving a large car, the instructor may have an alternative vehicle.

Taking Lessons

Don't feel that you can only drive with your approved instructor in the car with you. If you have a set of L-plates and a friend or relative over the age of 21 who has held a full licence for 3 or more years, there's nothing to stop you having practice lessons with them. Just make sure their insurance covers them (and you) in case of accidents.

Your instructor will advise you on all aspects of driving, not just the practical side. They will coach you for your theory test if you haven't already taken it, and they can provide, if asked, a list of recommended reading material for revision. They can also advise on the best things to practice if you're planning on having extra lessons with a friend or relative.

Once you've had a few lessons, your instructor will be able to give you an estimate of when you'll be ready for your tests. It's best to take their advice, even though you may be eager to get it over with; driving tests can be costly if you have to take more than one.

The Theory and Hazard Perception Tests

The theory test became a required part of the driving test in 1996, followed by the hazard perception test in 2002. These replace the original format of a Q&A session on road signs and general theory which used to take place at the end of the practical test. The two-part test costs £30 at time of writing.

The theory part of the test is a set of multiple choice questions, 50 in total, and you have to answer a minimum of 43 correctly to pass. It's advisable to read each question thoroughly as the meanings may not immediately be clear.

The hazard perception part consists of short video clips, 14 in total, showing common road scenes. Your task is to spot the developing hazard/s in each clip. The maximum score possible on this section is 75, and the pass mark is 44.

Needless to say, if you fail any part of these tests you will have to pay for a re-test; to avoid the extra cost it's well worth revising as much as you can. You can also take practice theory tests online, which will give you an idea of what to expect.

The Practical Test

For most learners, the scariest part of learning to drive is the practical driving test. Currently the test costs £56.50 for a test during the week, or £67 for an evening or weekend test. It's best to take your instructor's advice about when to go in for your test; they will have a much better idea of your level of competency than you will. You're more likely to pass first time and avoid having to pay for multiple tests if you're 100% ready.

Before the test begins, you will be asked to read a numberplate of a car from a certain distance away. If you need glasses or contact lenses for this you must wear them at all times when driving. You will also be asked two car maintenance questions, such as where to find the type pressure of the vehicle or how to check the oil level. You will not be expected to actually do these; the examiner is simply making sure you know how.

The driving test itself will include two out of three reversing maneuvers: reversing round a corner, reverse parking, or turning in the road. Depending on weather and road conditions you may also be asked to perform an emergency stop maneuver as well. The rest of the test involves driving on public roads, following the examiner's directions. It's important not to panic, even if you think you may have made a mistake. Provided your driving is safe, obeys the rules of the road, and doesn't cause hazards to other drivers you should be fine. As long as you make no major mistakes and fewer than 15 minor ones a pass should be fairly certain.

At the end of the test, your examiner will inform you of a pass or fail. You can request feedback in both instances; perhaps you passed but there were minor faults to work on. If you failed he/she will go through the faults with you, so you know what to work on next time.

Passing your test

Once you have passed your driving test, you will need your own insurance policy to drive alone on the roads. Insurance for young drivers will usually be expensive, but the cost can be reduced by taking the PassPlus set of 6 lessons. There's no test at the end of these so they're much less daunting. Some insurance companies offer up to 30% discount for drivers who have taken these lessons. You may also be able to cut premium costs by naming an experienced driver on your policy. It may even be worth looking into buying a new car off a dealership if you can afford it; many new cars come with a year's free insurance. Aim for a small car with a less powerful engine and your insurance should be lower.

It may be tempting to take all your friends out for a spin and show off your new driving skills once you've passed, but try to avoid this temptation. Not only will it raise the likelihood of an accident, but if you get 6 or more penalty points on your license within two years of passing, it will be revoked and you will effectively be a learner again.

Passing a driving theory test , and driving competently on the roads, takes practice. Try taking a practice theory test online from a site such as FreeMockTheory. Try comparing car insurance for young drivers to give you an idea of the costs to expect once you've passed.


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