Thoughts on learners on motorways from our Patron Quentin Willson

My views are that there’s never been official lessons for learners to drive on motorways yet casualty rates are so low is a miracle on the scale of loaves and fishes. But I agree that not having proper motorway lessons is a glaring omission in driving tuition that we need to put right. You can see that there are several generations of drivers already on our motorways who don’t signal early enough, get too close to the car in front, don’t understand lane discipline and only survive because of the awareness of more skilled and experienced drivers. We’re also seeing more single vehicle accidents where cars strangely end up on motorway bankings. The amount of accidents with foreign HGVs on motorways is also on the increase. While KSIs (Killed and Serious Injuries) may be broadly static on the Strategic Road Network the amount of minor accidents and consequent huge delays (motorway lanes were closed over 400,000 times in 2015) is on the increase. Just listen to the radio in rush hour and you’ll hear of blockages due to accidents on virtually every single motorway in the country.

Reducing congestion due to needless motorway accidents (and potential injuries and fatalities) should be a government priority and that’s why we should all support the initiative of learner driver training on motorways. But there are caveats. I think lessons on motorways should only be done by qualified ADIs with dual controls and not during busy periods. A motorway driving learner curfew might be required. The ADI also needs to sign off the learner as having the required skill set to venture on a motorway and that needs to be after a set amount of hours already driven. What we don’t want are ‘raw learners’ on motorways for the first time and they must be judged to be able to cope with the increased speeds and traffic density. Learner vehicles need to be clearly marked for motorway tuition and we also need a public awareness campaign to make other drivers aware of their presence.

What I do worry about is timid learners staying in the left hand lane doing the dance of death with HGVs. This is arguably one of the most dangerous places on a motorway. ADIs must be certain that their learners can make normal progress and maintain 70 mph most of the time. This is an initiative that’s fraught with problems and probably needs a pilot scheme to see how well it can work. What we definitely don’t need is well-intentioned but inexperienced parents or friends teaching learners to drive on busy motorways and the whole concept needs a raft of professional safeguards and restrictions. This won’t be easy and every ADI should contribute to what’s likely to be a contentious and difficult debate.