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learning to drive

A guide for parents

It’s an exciting but nervous time for teenagers and their parents. If anything, it can be harder on mum and dad, as the chances are you’ll foot the bill for lessons, insurance and maybe even a first car. Then there’s the worry of using the family wheels for practice as your child gets to grips with the basics of driving. Even the closest parent-child relationship can be put under strain with a teenager behind the wheel and mum or dad in the passenger seat…

How can I give my child the best learning experience?

Any parent wants to support their child in learning to drive safely and effectively. We’ll show you how to help your child become a safe and responsible driver. From choosing the right instructor to making the most of practice to supporting your child if they fail, this guide is full of practical advice. So, good luck to you and your learner driver. Here’s to making the start of their driving career a safe and happy one.

What driving experience can you get before turning 17?

Although your child can’t legally drive on public roads until they are 17, on private land they can drive at any age. In recent years there’s been an explosion in under-17 driving opportunities. By starting young they’ll have a better feel for how a car works when they reach 17, and will hopefully be better able to learn about hazard perception and the rules of the road if they can already control a car.

What about learning to drive with a disability?

Having a disability need not be a barrier to learning to drive. There are many modifications and adaptations that can make driving possible. If your child receives the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the enhanced rate mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) then they can apply for a licence at 16, not 17.

When can you apply for a provisional licence?

As watershed moments in a teenager’s life go, the 17th birthday has to be right up there. Forget cards and presents or a night out with friends – what they’re probably more excited about is finally being able get behind the wheel of a car on the public road. To make sure their licence arrives in time for their birthday, it’s possible to apply up to three months in advance.

 

How do we find the right driving instructor or driving school?

As the parent of a learner driver it is really important you find the right driving instructor. To help you find the ideal person to teach your teenager, the DVSA has improved its ‘find driving schools, lessons and instructors’ service.

You can now search the database of more than 26,000 approved instructors by the grade awarded to them by the DVSA. Instructors can add links to their website or Facebook page. This will help you find more detailed information, such as

  • whether the instructor provides a photo for security
  • if they provide lessons for learners with a special need
  • the instructor’s availability/working pattern
  • the price of lessons.

Take a look at gov.uk/find-driving-schools-and-lessons.

Once you have a found a likely looking instructor or school, ask these questions:

  1. Is the instructor fully qualified (an ADI)?
  2. If we have a PDI (an instructor who is still in training) will we pay less?
  3. If my child doesn’t get on with their instructor, can we have our money back? All of it, or just some?
  4. Will we get the same instructor and car for each lesson?
  5. How long is each lesson? Can we choose how long the sessions last?
  6. Can we get post-test training such as night-time driving lessons?
  7. Can we change instructors if we want?
  8. Where will my child have their lessons?
  9. Do we know someone who has recently passed the test and could recommend an instructor or a school?

You can supplement professional lessons with practice in the family car, but please do check our advice on supervising a learner driver before doing so.

The theory & hazard perception test

Before a learner can take their practical test they must pass the theory test. Book via the official website at gov.uk/book-theory-test. To take the test a learner will need to go to a suitable centre where they’ll be allocated a booth with a computer, along with instructions on how to use it. They will work their way through both parts of the test (multiple-choice questions then the hazard perception section) before being given the results for both tests at the end of the session. To give your learner driver the best chance of passing, encourage them to take the theory test seriously – they won’t be able to bluff their way through it. As of 2014 it is now a requirement for candidates to be either an English or Welsh speaker. Interpreters are no longer permitted.

There’s a stack of aids to help learners get through their theory test. Of course apps are the favoured approach in the current market and here are some of the best apps on the market:

  • THE OFFICIAL DVSA THEORY TEST KIT – Because this was created by the same people who set the theory and practical driving tests, you’re not going to find a more useful app, and at £4.99 it’s also something of a bargain.
  • DRIVING TEST SUCCESS – Practise every official revision question from the DVSA. Available on iOS, Android, Kindle, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. View the full range of apps at theorytestapp.co.uk.

What does the practical test involve?

Once your learner driver has passed their theory test, they’ll be itching to move on to the practical test.

We’ve broken down the key things to be aware of, to make sure you can support someone going through this journey:

  • The pass mark: your child must make no more than 15 driving faults and no serious or dangerous faults.
  • .
  • The length of the test:  expect the practical test to take around 40 minutes.
  • The costis £62 on weekdays, and £75 during the evening, at weekends or on bank holidays. You’ll also likely have to pay to use your driving instructor’s car during this time and at least an hour before.
  • Book their test online at gov.uk/book-driving-test to avoid admin fees, which might be charged by thirrd-party websites. It will only take you a few minutes.

 

Give yourself the best opportunity to showcase your skills and pass the test with our Practical Test Checklist:

  • A positive attitude: an instructor wouldn’t encourage your child to take the test if they weren’t ready, so tell them to believe in their driving abilities.
  • Good timekeeping: allow plenty of time for your child to reach the test centre. Stress levels will go through the roof if running late.
  • Their provisional licence: how hard would you and your child kick yourselves if they turned up without their provisional licence? Remind them to take their theory test pass certificate too.
  • Sensible clothing & footwear: candidates should wear comfortable clothes, and shoes which make it easy to operate the pedals safely.
  • A willingness to learn: Just over half of practical tests end with a thumbs down from the examiner. Don’t be surprised if this happens to your child, even if they’ve been flying in lessons. They’ll be told why they have failed at the end of the test so they can do better next time.
  • Keep nerves in check: there’s no point in pretending your child won’t be nervous as their tests loom. But there are steps you can both take to prevent nerves from taking over.
  • Avoid peer pressure: if having friends asking about their driving test will make your child nervous, encourage them to keep the test date to themselves.
  • Practice, practice, practice: talk to your instructor and your child about the manoeuvres they have been practising, in particular, the skills they need to improve upon. Then make time so they can practise with you in the passenger seat. Getting a manoeuvre right time after time without the safety net of dual-controls will really help their confidence.
  • Think successful thoughts: the instructor wouldn’t put your teenager in for their test if they didn’t think they were ready. Encourage your child to remember all the times they have successfully tackled tough manoeuvres. If they’ve done these things well before, they can do them again.
  • Go easy on them:however well they are driving in lessons, your child could still fail. Make sure they understand this isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it will probably make them a better driver in the long run.
  • Remember worry makes it worse: the trouble with worry is that it interferes with concentration. The mind focuses on what might go wrong instead of what needs to be done next. Encourage your child to block negative thoughts and give driving their full attention every time they get behind the wheel.

What to do if they fail their practical

Give them help

If your child didn’t pass their theory test, help them come back stronger by using learning aids such as apps to improve their knowledge. If they’ve failed the practical, discuss what went wrong and help them improve on any areas of weakness.

Get them back behind the wheel

Failing the practical test can be a real blow to a young driver’s confidence, and they may be tempted to take a break from learning. Don’t let them take more than a few days off. They shouldn’t be allowed to get rusty, or to put off facing their nerves indefinitely. Be supportive, understanding and encouraging. It will give them a lift to know you are in their corner.

The longer they learn, the better they will become

Anyone who passes first time is very proud of the fact. But did you know there’s plenty of evidence that people who fail their first practical test actually go on to be better, safer drivers? That’s because the extra practice and instruction will improve their skills, and delay the moment at which they are exposed to the risks of independent driving. So failing may seem like a big deal at the time, but help your child understand that, statistically, it’s going to make  them a safer driver.

Book the next lesson soon

Instructors don’t set their pupils up to fail, so if they felt your child was good enough before they should be ready for a re-test. Allow time to work on weaknesses but book another test without a long delay.