Learning To Drive

Here in the UK, most people can start learning to drive when they are seventeen years of age. But there are strict rules and regulations which must be adhered to when driving on UK roads. You must do several things before you drive a car or ride a motorcycle. These include getting a driving licence, registering, insuring and taxing your vehicle, and getting an MOT. Before you drive or ride, you must have the correct driving licence, be the minimum driving or riding age and meet the minimum eyesight rules. What I wasn’t aware of were all the differing rules for driving and for riding age, though I knew some. There are different categories, these being for a car (category B), motorbike (categories A1, A2 and A), moped (category P or AM), medium-sized vehicles (category C1), large vehicles and lorries (category C), minibuses (category D1), bus (category D), agricultural tractor (category F), quad bikes (category B1), motor tricycle (categories A and A1) and other specialist vehicles (categories G, H and K). Specific details are on the government website What kind of vehicle do you want to drive? – Vehicles you can drive – GOV.UK, but for example you cannot drive a tractor until you’re 16, but once you’re 16 you can apply for provisional tractor entitlement (category F) then take a tractor test. You will then be able to drive smaller tractors less than 2.45m wide and tow trailers less than 2.45m wide with 2 wheels or 4 close-coupled wheels. Alternatively you can wait until you’re 17 then take a tractor test to drive any size of tractor. If you get a full car licence you can drive a tractor without having to take a special tractor test. As for eyesight, you must wear glasses or contact lenses every time you drive if you need them to meet the ‘standards of vision for driving’. This guide is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg). You must tell DVLA if you’ve got any problem with your eyesight that affects both of your eyes, or the remaining eye if you only have one eye. This does not include being short or long sighted or colour blind. You also do not need to say if you’ve had surgery to correct short sightedness and can meet the eyesight standards. You could be prosecuted if you drive without meeting the standards of vision for driving. You must be able to read (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) a car number plate made after 1 September 2001 from 20 metres. You must also meet the minimum eyesight standard for driving by having a visual acuity of at least decimal 0.5 (6/12) measured on the Snellen scale (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) using both eyes together or, if you have sight in one eye only, in that eye. You must also have an adequate field of vision, your optician can tell you about this and do a test. Lorry and bus drivers must have a visual acuity at least 0.8 (6/7.5) measured on the Snellen scale in your best eye and at least 0.1 (6/60) on the Snellen scale in the other eye. You can reach this standard using glasses with a corrective power not more than (+) 8 dioptres, or with contact lenses. There is no specific limit for the corrective power of contact lenses. You must have an uninterrupted horizontal visual field of at least 160 degrees with an extension of at least 70 degrees left and right and 30 degrees up and down. No defects should be present within a radius of the central 30 degrees. You may still be able to renew your lorry or bus licence if you cannot meet these standards but held your licence before 1 January 1997. Incidentally, I have learned that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) still exists, holding more than 50 million driver records and more than 40 million vehicle records. They collect over £7 billion a year in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). DVLA is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Transport. But on 28 November 2013 a new agency with responsibility for maintaining vehicle standards was launched as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). So the DVLA is in charge of licensing and collecting taxes, whereas the DVSA is in charge of rules and testing.

Anyway, back to the rules. At the start of your practical driving test you have to correctly read a number plate on a parked vehicle. If you cannot, you’ll fail your driving test and the test will not continue. DVLA will be told and your licence will be revoked. When you reapply for your driving licence, DVLA will ask you to have an eyesight test with DVSA. This will be at a driving test centre. If you are successful, you will still have to pass the DVSA standard eyesight test at your next practical driving test. It is essential to have read through the Highway Code, in fact it is essential reading for all road users, including pedestrians, mobility scooter users, cyclists, horse riders, drivers and motorcyclists. The code applies to England, Scotland and Wales and guidance for Northern Ireland is available. Nowadays you can order a copy of The Highway Code book online, or buy a copy from most high street bookshops. It is essential though to stay up to date, so it is now possible to sign up to get email alerts when the rules change or alternatively to follow The Highway Code on Facebook. The Code covers many aspects, like who The Highway Code is for, how it is worded, the consequences of not following the rules, self-driving vehicles, and the hierarchy of road users. There are rules for pedestrians, including general guidance, crossing the road, crossings, and situations needing extra care, rules for powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters, including on pavements and on the road, rules about animals, including horse-drawn vehicles, horse riders and other animals, rules for cyclists, including an overview, road junctions, roundabouts and crossing the road. There are rules for motorcyclists, including helmets, carrying passengers, daylight riding and riding in the dark, rules for drivers and motorcyclists, including vehicle condition, fitness to drive, alcohol and drugs, what to do before setting off, vehicle towing and loading, and seat belts and child restraints, general rules, techniques and advice for all drivers and riders regarding signals, stopping procedures, lighting, control of the vehicle, speed limits, stopping distances, lines and lane markings and multi-lane carriageways, smoking, mobile phones and sat nav. Also rules for using the road, including general rules, overtaking, road junctions, roundabouts, pedestrian crossings and reversing. I have also learned that there have been recent changes to rules relating to pedestrians and their priority at road junctions! There are of course rules for driving in adverse weather conditions, including wet weather, icy and snowy weather, windy weather, fog and hot weather, for waiting and parking, including rules on parking at night and decriminalised parking enforcement. Further changes are now in place with rules for motorways, including rules for signals, joining the motorway, driving on the motorway, lane discipline, overtaking, stopping and leaving the motorway. A number of the rules for motorways also apply to other high-speed roads. In addition, rules apply to breakdowns and incidents, road works, level crossings and tramways, light signals controlling traffic, signals to other road users as well as those used by authorised persons, including police officers, people controlling traffic, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency officers, traffic officers and school crossing patrols.

A selection of just a few of the many roadsigns!

Drivers should all know the meaning of the various traffic signs, including signs giving orders, warning signs, direction signs, information signs and road works signs as well as the various road markings. There are even specific vehicle markings that are used, including large goods vehicle rear markings, hazard warning plates, projection markers and other markings. Even bicycle and motorcycle rules must be known and adhered to. Something I learned whilst researching this was that there are special rules which apply to drivers and motorcyclists for a period of two years from the date of passing their first driving test. Where a person subject to the special rules accumulates 6 or more penalty points before the end of the 2-year period (including any points acquired before passing the test) their licence will be revoked automatically. To regain the licence they must reapply for a provisional licence and may drive only as a learner until they pass a further full driving test. The code also gives information and rules about vehicle maintenance, safety and security as well as about first aid on the road, including dealing with danger, getting help, helping those involved, and providing emergency care. But it still has a code of practice for horse-drawn vehicles! There are also rules whilst learning to drive. For example you must have a provisional driving licence for Great Britain or Northern Ireland and you must be supervised when you’re learning to drive a car. This can be by a driving instructor or someone else who meets the rules, for example family or friends, but even they have rules they must follow, for example anyone you practise your driving with (without paying them) must be over 21, be qualified to drive the type of vehicle you want to learn in, for example they must have a manual car licence if they’re supervising you in a manual car and they must have had their full driving 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 drive without the right supervision. It is illegal for your friend or family member to use a mobile phone whilst supervising you, or for you to drive on the motorway when practising with family or friends. In addition, you need your own insurance as a learner driver if you are practising in a car you own. Your family member or friend will usually be covered on this. If you are practising in someone else’s car, you need to either make sure you are covered by the car owner’s insurance policy as a learner driver, or take out your own insurance policy that covers you driving in the car as a learner driver.

Whew! There is more yet. The car you learn in must display proper ‘L’ plates. You can drive at any time, day and night. But you can only drive on motorways if you are driving in England, Scotland or Wales, you are with an approved driving instructor and the car is fitted with dual controls. You must also complete a theory test, and there are some important things to know, for example you must take your UK photocard driving licence to your test. If you have a licence from Northern Ireland, bring the photocard and paper counterpart licence. Your test will be cancelled and you will not get your money back if you do not take the right things with you. However you can choose whether or not to wear a face covering at your test. If you have a paper licence, you must bring a valid passport as well as your paper licence. If you do not have a passport, you need to get a photocard licence. In addition, you will not have access to your personal items in the test room, things like bags, earphones, mobile phones and watches. You will usually have to store any personal items in a locker, but if your test centre does not have lockers, then you must turn off your phone before you enter the test centre and put your belongings in a clear plastic box that will be given to you – this must be stored under your desk during the test. The test centre staff will check if you have anything with you that could be used to cheat. Your test will not go ahead if you do not let them check. It is illegal to cheat at the theory test. You can be sent to prison and banned from driving. When you take the actual test, you must take your UK driving licence, your theory test pass certificate, if you have it and (of course) a car. Most people use their driving instructor’s, but you can use your own car if it meets the rules. These are different to when I took my test, but that was many years ago! Now, your car must have no warning lights showing, for example, the airbag warning light, have no tyre damage and meet the legal tread depth on each tyre. You must not have a space-saver spare tyre. The car must be roadworthy, be fitted with an extra interior rear-view mirror for the examiner and be fitted with a passenger seatbelt and a passenger head restraint for the examiner (slip-on types are not allowed). The car must be able to reach at least 62mph and have an mph speedometer, be fitted with L-plates (‘L’ or ‘D’ plates in Wales) on the front and rear and have 4 wheels and meet the maximum authorised mass (MAM) of no more than 3,500 kg. It must be taxed, have a current MOT (if it is over 3 years old) and be insured for a driving test. It is wise to check with your insurance company. Some cars cannot be used in the test because they do not give the examiner all-round vision. This is also because not every model has been used in a test before, and some may not give the examiner all-round vision. You can check if your car can be used by contacting the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). Having said all that, you can start driving as soon as you pass your driving test. But you must have an insurance policy that allows you to drive without supervision.

All this is to give you an idea about the rules and regulations. It should not be used as a definitive guide. More detailed information is available from the website Learn to drive a car: step by step – GOV.UK. I feel I must also mention that passing this test means you can legally drive. But with more accidents being caused by drivers in their first few years of driving, there really is no substitute for experience. Please, drive carefully!

This week…as seen on Twitter the other day:
“When stopped by the police for an offence, if you are telling a friend in a foreign language what you’ve just done, it is a good idea to check first that the officer isn’t fluent in that language. Driver reported for using mobile phone whilst driving. No excuses.”

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