Learner driver rules: what are you legally allowed to do?

Few things are quite as exciting — and nerve-wracking — as your first time behind the wheel as a learner driver.

But while your instructor might keep you in-the-know about the rules of the road while you’re in their car, it gets more complicated when you want to practice. What are the rules when you’re not in your instructor’s vehicle? Where can you go and what aren’t you allowed to do?

To help you feel confident when you’re practising for your test, we’ve unpacked everything you need to know about UK driving laws for learner drivers in this in-depth guide.

Do I need a licence to drive as a learner?

While you won’t need a full driving licence, you cannot drive at all until you have a provisional licence.

A provisional driving licence permits you to drive on UK roads while under the supervision of another driver. Without a provisional licence, you cannot take driving lessons or drive your car even if an experienced driver is with you.

You can get a provisional licence by completing the D1 form available at your local post office or via the government website. It currently costs £34 to apply for your provisional driving licence online.

You’ll need a few things to confirm your identity when applying for a provisional licence, including:

  • Your passport (or similar identification document)
  • Your addresses for the past three years
  • Your National Insurance Number

Find out more about getting a provisional licence with our in-depth guide.

Who can supervise me when I drive?

Once you have your provisional licence, you can drive under the supervision of:

  • A licenced driving instructor, or;
  • A driver over the age of 21 who has held a full driving licence (that is, they’ve passed their practical and theory driving tests) for at least three years

Your supervisor must be in a fit state to drive the vehicle whenever they’re supervising you. They should be able to take over if they deem it unsafe for you to continue driving while you’re both out on the road.

Your supervisor MUST:

  • Be fully sober
  • Have their glasses or contact lenses with them if they need them to drive
  • Be physically fit to drive (e.g. they can’t supervise you if they have a cast on their arm or leg)
  • Not be on medication that could affect their driving (e.g. those that cause drowsiness)
  • Not use their phone at any time while they supervise you

You can be fined up to £1,000 and get up to 6 penalty points on your provisional licence if you drive without correct supervision.

You can have additional passengers with you while you’re driving. You can take as many people as your car can legally hold, so you’re welcome to take friends out for a ride as long as your supervisor is with you in the front seat.

How old do I have to be before I can learn to drive?

You have to be at least 17 years old to drive a car, even with a provisional licence.

You can apply for your licence three months before your 16th birthday, but you won’t be able to get behind the wheel until your 17th birthday.

However, you can learn to drive a car and take your driving test when you’re 16 if you’ve applied for the mobility part of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). PIP is a government scheme that helps you with extra costs if you have a long-term physical or mental health condition.

While you’ll have to wait until your 17th birthday to get behind the wheel of a car in the UK, you can drive other vehicles from a younger age without PIP. For example, you can drive a moped from the age of 16 as long as you’ve passed your Compulsory Basic Training (CBT).

Is there a minimum eyesight requirement for learning to drive?

When you apply for your provisional licence, you’ll need to confirm that you can read a licence plate from twenty metres away.

You must wear glasses or contact lenses every time you drive if you need them to meet the minimum eyesight requirements. You also need to tell the DVLA if you have problems with your eyesight. If you don’t, you could face prosecution.

You don’t need to disclose:

  • If you’re short-sighted
  • If you’re long-sighted
  • If you’re colour blind
  • If you’ve had surgery to correct your eyesight

You should note that you have to correctly read a number plate on a parked vehicle at the start of your practical driving test. If you can’t, you’ll fail your driving test, and the test won’t continue. The DVLA will also revoke your licence.

Ensure you bring everything you need to meet the basic eyesight requirements with you to avoid losing your licence.

Whose car can I drive?

You can drive any car as long as you’re a named driver on the owner’s insurance policy. This includes your car if you have one, though you can ONLY drive it when you have a supervisor present.

Check that any car you plan on driving is roadworthy and fully insured. If you’re borrowing someone else’s car, you must have the owner’s permission to drive first.

Whether you’re taking your own car or someone else’s, you must put an L plate on the front and back whenever you’re driving. In Wales, you can use a D plate. L plates and D plates must have a red L or D on a white background and be the correct size.

L-plate

Credit: Gov.uk. Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/l-plate-size-rules/l-plate-sizes. Licence: cc

When and where can I drive when I’m learning?

Driving at night

You’re legally allowed to drive at night as long as you have the right insurance and supervision.

Night-time driving does come with additional challenges that make practising after dark inadvisable:

  • Reduced visibility of other road users
  • Reduced visibility of road markings
  • More difficulty in judging speed and distance

Be aware that some learner driver insurance policies won’t cover you if you choose to drive after a specific time. Check with your insurer before driving at night.

Driving on the motorway

Until 2018, learner drivers were not allowed to drive on UK motorways. However, the law changed in June 2018 to let learners take motorway driving lessons.

To drive on the motorway, you must be using a car fitted with dual controls and be with an approved driving instructor.

Don’t worry: motorway driving isn’t part of the test. Motorway lessons are voluntary; your instructor will decide when you’re ready or may choose not to take you on the motorway at all.

You can learn more with our in-depth guide to driving on the motorway.

What insurance do I need as a learner driver?

If you’re practising in your car, you’ll need your own insurance policy. If you’re practising in someone else’s, you’ll need to be listed as a named driver on their existing insurance policy.

Please note that if you’re involved in an accident behind the wheel of someone else’s car, their No Claims will still be affected even though they weren’t driving at the time.

However, you can get provisional insurance from two hours to 90 days to cover you as a learner driver in someone else’s car. Provisional insurance will typically protect the owner's No Claims Bonus.

You won’t need to worry about insurance when driving with an instructor. They’ll have Driving Instructor Insurance to cover any collisions that a learner is involved in while driving the vehicle.

Driving a car without insurance is very serious. You can get an unlimited fine, eight penalty points and a driving ban for driving without insurance, even if you’re only a learner.

If you drive a car that you are not insured on, the police could give you a fixed penalty of £300, as well as up to 6 penalty points if you are caught. If the case goes to court, you may:

  • Receive an unlimited fine
  • Receive a driving disqualification
  • Have your vehicle seized and destroyed

Drive smarter while you learn

Knowing the rules of the road is the key to helping you drive more confidently. Now that you have everything you need to get practising, you’ll pass your test in no time.

At Only Smart Drivers, we help new drivers get cheaper car insurance with telematics . Find out how much you can save and why young drivers continue to choose us.