The
Guide to Learning to Drive

Everything you need to know on one long page

The basics

  • How to get a driving licence
  • How much does it cost

Learning to drive

  • Driving instruction in the UK
  • Driving under supervision of friends / family

Provisional licence

  • What it is and how to get one
  • Get your provisional driving licence

Theory test

  • About the theory test
  • How to pass the theory test
  • Theory test materials and resources
  • What happens during the theory test
  • Notes on hazard perception

Practical test

  • Practical test - are you ready?
  • Booking the practical test
  • On the day
  • Eyesight test
  • 3
    Show me / tell me
  • The test - before you move off
  • The test route
  • Independent driving
  • Provisional licence
  • Afterwards
  • How to pass the theory test

After you pass

  • Claiming your driving test pass
  • P plates?
  • PassPlus

Overseas drivers

  • Drivers from the European Union
  • Non-EU: Can you exchange?
  • Refresher lessons

Resources & links

  • Official pages
  • Official YouTube channels
  • Theory test resources
  • Practical test resources

Notes

Unofficial source – the information on this page has been compiled for your convenience. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge, but we are not responsible for any errors.

GOV.UK links – We have highlighted links to the official government website, Gov.uk. It is the authoritative source for all information and it’s where you’ll need to apply for a licence, book tests, etc.

Other Links – this page contains lots of links to other sites. We do not necessarily endorse or recommend the sites.

Videos – we've embedded several YouTube videos from the DVLA and DSA official channels. We didn't make and don't own these videos.

Cars only - this guide is intended for car drivers. Motorbikes have different rules.

Not for NI - Northern Ireland have their own licensing agency - the Driver & Vehicle Agency - and their own rules.

Abbreviations

DVLA – Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. The government agency responsible for licensing drivers.

DSA – Driving Standards Agency. The government agency responsible for handling driver testing.

ADI – Approved Driving Instructor. Someone who is fully licenced to teach driving. Displays a green windscreen badge.

PDI – Potential Driving Instructor. Someone in training to become an instructor. Partially qualified and allow to charge for driving lessons. Displays a pink windscreen badge.

The basics

How to get a driving licence

We’ll explain each step in detail, but here’s a brief overview of what you’ll need to do.

Step 1: Provisional licence

Before you can drive as a learner, you’ll need a provisional licence. This licence looks just like a real driving licence, ‘cept for an L in the corner. There's a few requirements, but no tests and basically once you’re 17 (or have lived here for six months), apply and you’ll have it in a week.

Step 2: Learn to drive

Find an driving instructor and begin lessons, or drive under the supervision of appropriate supervising driver.

Step 3: Theory test

In theory, once you have a provisional licence, you can go for the theory test. However, you should wait until you’ve started lessons and coordinate your test with your instructor - there's no point to take it until you're ready. Your instructor can advise what to study and might have access to online theory practice content – often included with your lessons at no extra charge.

Step 4: Practical test

The final hurdle is the practical test. You’ll book an appointment (usually several weeks off – there’s often a backlog), show up at the test centre and take an examiner for a 45 minute ride. Back at the test centre you’ll find out if you have a licence.

How much does it cost to learn to drive?

Short answer: a lot. Long version: the absolute, fixed costs are the government fees for the licence and tests – a minimum of £143. The number of lessons depends on your needs, but the lessons are likely to be around £1,000. Everything considered, you should expect to pay between £800 to £1500, but it could be more.

Don’t forget that car insurance for young drivers is super expensive too.

Learning to drive

Driving instruction in the UK

Teaching driving is a big industry. As of September 2013, there are 43,704 driving instructors in the country.

The government regulates driving instruction. To charge for driving lessons, someone must be an approved driving instructor (also known as an ADI), or a trainee potential driving instructor (aka PDI). To become an ADI, one needs to complete an extensive training course, pass three driving examinations and a criminal records check.

During all lessons, it is a legal requirement for the car to carry L plates and the instructor must display his or her ADI licence in the windscreen (green for ADIs, pink for PDIs).

Most driving instructors are self-employed. They can choose to work with a franchise, a driving school or operate independently. There are nationwide franchises, including the AA, BSM or Red, several regional franchises and lots of local driving schools.

It’s not a legal requirement, but most driving instructors drive a dual-controlled car. This means the car has an extra brake pedal so the instructor can stop it if necessary. We recommend choosing an instructor with a dual-controlled car – it’s safer.

Driving under supervision of friends / family

It’s legal to drive while supervised by a regular driver who is over 21 and has held a licence for over three years, provided you don’t pay them anything. Check the "Who can teach you to drive" page linked at the top of this section for full details.

The supervisor cannot use a mobile phone. The car must have L plates at the front and back.

Driving instructors carry special insurance that covers their pupils. However, normal car insurance doesn’t, so if you drive while supervised by a friend or family member, you’ll need to be added to their insurance policy. This can be expensive, but if you don’t, you’re driving without insurance – a serious criminal offence, not to mention you won’t be covered in case of an accident.

An alternative to being added to the supervisor’s policy is to purchase standalone learner driver insurance. These are widely available from multiple insurers, check Google or your favourite comparison site for a quote.

Remember that as a provisional licence holder, you are not allowed to drive alone or with someone who does not meet the legal requirements to be a supervisor. This offense carries 6 to 8 penalty points (provisional licences get penalty points too!), a fine and a ban. Your insurance won't cover you as an unlicensed driver, so you could be charged with an additional offence of driving without insurance. Just don't do it.

Provisional licence

What is is and how to get one

A provisional licence is required to begin lessons. It is a plastic photocard, just like the regular licence, and you'll need it for each test and your instructor will want to see it when you begin lessons.

There’s not much else to say. The requirements are straightforward, there are no tests and it’s very easy to get one, especially if you have a passport.

Theory test

Theory test

The theory test checks your knowledge of motoring. Road signs, traffic laws, braking distances and hazard perception are tested. It’s not too hard – with the right amount of preparation, you’ll pass.

Check the Resources section at the end of this guide for links to free theory test resources.

What happens during the theory test

  1. Theory tests are administrated in non-descript offices around the country – you’ll need to be there at the appointed date and time. Facilities are Spartan – some locations don’t have toilets.
  2. You’ll be checked in and directed to a locker to store your stuff during the test. You can't bring your phone or tablet to the test, so you’ll need to write all your notes on your hand (just kidding – this is probably not allowed).
  3. The test happens in a cyber-café style room and you’ll be assigned to a particular computer.
  4. After an introductory video, the first part of the test consists of multiple choice questions, either images (like a picture of a road sign) or text (what is the braking distance at 60 mph).
  5. The second part is the hazard perception videos. These are short video clips in which one or sometimes two “hazards” occur – like someone cycling out into the road.
  6. For the hazard videos, you need to click when you see the hazard develop. You'll be scored based on how quickly you spotted it. A few videos have two hazards, but most have just one.
  7. At the conclusion of the test, you’ll receive a page with your score. The theory test certificate expires, so if you don't pass the practical test within two years, you'll need to do it again.

Notes on the hazard perception test

The hazard perception test is a series of video clips, each with one or two “hazards” – like someone cycling out into the road. You’ll need to click when you see the hazard develop and you are scored on how quickly you saw the hazard.

At the start of the test, you are strongly urged to only click once and not to repeatedly click. When I took the test in 2010, I failed with a horrible hazard score. It appears that the clips have a fixed threshold where the designers feel the hazard began and if you click right before this, you score nothing.

The next time I took the test, I clicked at long second intervals during the hazard – about six times for a single hazard clip and ten or twelve for the double hazards. I passed with a great score. Make of this what you will. It’s not official advice - don't blame me if you get a zero score for clicking too much - and the test might have changed since I took it.

Practical test

This is the hard part.

Booking the practical test

You'll need your provisional licence number and your theory test pass certificate number to book the exam. You’ll also be asked for your instructor’s licence number, but this is optional – my understanding is they ask for it to prevent the instructor being booked for two tests at the same time. You’ll want to confirm you test date with your instructor anyway, of course.

It’s very easy to book the practical test. There’s no need to use a booking service and you absolutely shouldn’t pay any service fees for booking it. Unless you want to use a rapid booking service – which the government seems to frown upon – I’d recommend booking it yourself through the official GOV.UK portal. You’ll provide your details, pick a test centre, choose a date, pay the fee - that's it.

There is usually a long backlog, sometimes more than two months, for a test. There are a few rapid booking services, both standalone and offered by driving schools, that promise to book a test much sooner than the official site. I don’t have any experience with these services.

Changing your test date

After booking, you’re able to change the date of your practical test. If you check frequently, you might be able to grab a cancelled appointment that is sooner than your booking. You’re only allowed to change your appointment six times - presumably this is to foil the rapid booking services.

On the day

Usually, you’ll meet your instructor an hour earlier for a warm-up before heading over to the test centre.

At the centre, you’ll check-in and you'll need your provisional photocard – don’t forget it! You’ll meet your examiner who will ask you to sign the DL25A driving test report he / she will be using during the test. Then you’ll head outside...

Eyesight test

As you walk outside with the examiner to your car, he / she will point to a car in the car park and ask you to read the number plate. Assuming you read it correctly, onwards. If not, “you’ll fail your driving test and the test won’t continue. DVLA will be told and your licence will be revoked”.

Show me / tell me

At the car, the instructor will ask you a few questions. These can be outside or inside the car, or under the bonnet. For health and safety, you won’t actually have to touch anything under the bonnet.

The test - before you drive off

After show me / tell me, you'll both jump in the car, along with your instructor if you want. Your instructor can ride in the car, but can't help you and you can't use an interpreter anymore either. Before you drive off, the examiner will explain a few things and instruct you to pull away. Remember to put your seatbelt on and make sure to ask the examiner too - this is part of the test! Your driving instructor should be a good sport and do this without prompting.

The test route

Your driving instructor knows all the local test routes and during your lessons you should have covered the area – there shouldn’t be any surprises.

Practical tests start out with lower speed driving in a quiet area. At some point, you’ll be asked to pull over and then move off again “when it’s safe to do so”. There is also the manoeuvre check – reversing into a corner, parallel parking, etc. This is all stuff you should already know and have drilled extensively with your instructor.

At all times during the test, remember the details – checking your mirrors, using turn signals where appropriate, etc. Don’t fail for a stupid reason!

Independent driving

About 10 minutes of the test is “independent driving”. Your examiner will either ask you to follow signs towards a destination or show you a very basic map to follow. Page 4 of the GOV.UK car practical driving test page has more details. In my opinion, this was easy.

Practical test grading

You're graded on the DL25A Driving Test Report form you signed at the start. You download a copy of this form in PDF format – check the notes on the last few pages for helpful information.

During the test, the examiner will mark any faults you make. You can make up to 15 minor faults – like jerky gear changing or incorrect hand position on the wheel – but no serious or dangerous faults. If you’re an especially bad driver, the exam will stop immediately but usually it continues in full – even after the examiner has decided you won’t pass.

Afterwards

If you pass, congratulations – you’re all done until your 70 (or get convicted of drink / dangerous driving and need to take an extended retest – but fingers crossed, right?).

The examiner will give you a pass certificate and he / she can also automatically begin the process of sending you a full driving licence – this is convenient as otherwise you’ll need to send in your pass certificate. See the next section for details.

If you fail, you need to wait 10 days before you try again. In practice, due to the backlog, you’ll be waiting longer anyway so this isn’t an issue. You'll need to pay the full fee again and follow the same booking process as your first test.

How to pass the practical test

To pass the practical test, you need to know how to drive. This is obvious, but true. Until you know what you’re doing, there’s no point to try – you’ll just waste £120. Do the test when you’re confident and your instructor feels you’re ready.

Once you know how to drive, the key to passing is not to do something stupid. It’s all in the details. Make sure you ask the instructor to put his / her seatbelt on. Use turn signals. Check your mirrors – especially when moving off. When manoeuvring the car, make sure it stays / ends up within the lane. Drive smoothly – avoid sudden acceleration or braking (unless necessary, of course).

After you pass

Claiming your driving test pass

Once you pass, you’ll need to swap your provisional photocard for a full licence. Normally, this happens automatically after passing – the examiner will take your provisional licence and the DVLA will send you the full licence within one month (for me, it took 9 days).

If your name has changed or for some other reason you need to exchange it manually, you’ll need to apply by post to the DVLA.

Pass Plus

Pass Plus is a supplementary training programme intended for newly qualified drivers. It is a minimum of 6 hours. Driving instructors who offer this course must be registered with the government.

Your insurer might offer a discount on your insurance after successfully completing a Pass Plus course.

P plates

In the UK, there is no requirement to display P plates and newly licenced drivers face no restrictions, although proposals pop up from time to time. It's your decision, some drivers do, most don't.

Penality points

Newly qualified drivers have a lower penalty point revocation threshold – only 6 points for the first two years. Drive carefully!

Keeping your address up-to-date

Now that you’re a licensed driver, remember you have a legal responsibility to keep the address on your licence up-to-date. Fortunately, last I checked, this is free.

You can apply online, in which case you’ll get your new licence a bit faster, or apply in the post. The address change form is the abolished paper counterpart or the "letter D741 that came with your licence". Just fill in the details, cut your photocard licence in half and post it off.

Personally, I try to do everything online, but I find using the Government Gateway website to be a lot of bother (tip – warnings about not using the back buttons on your browser are a good indicator of grief ahead) and each time I’ve tried to update my address over the years it’s failed for some reason or another so I always update the address on my licence by post.

Overseas drivers

Drivers from the European Union

You can drive in the UK on an EU licence (unless you exchanged a foreign licence for the EU one) until you're 70 or have lived here for three years, whichever is longer. Consult the above links for full details.

Can you exchange your non-UK licence?

Andorra, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe

These 'designated countries' have exchange agreements with the UK. The fee varies depending on the country.

If you exchange a Canadian licence, you “you must provide evidence that you passed a driving test in a manual vehicle, otherwise we will issue a driving licence that only allows you to drive automatic vehicles”. Remember that most cars and hire cars in the UK and across Europe have manual gearboxes, so it makes sense to get a full licence even if you plan to own an automatic car. Insurers in the UK also ask if you have an full licence, having an automatic-only licence may affect your premium.

Everywhere else

From a licensing standpoint, you're the same as someone who's never had a licence. You can drive on your foreign licence for 12 months. After that, you’ll need to pass the test and get a GB licence.

Refresher lessons

Although you’ll need to follow the same process as a first-time driver, you’ll obviously don’t need the same training. When comparing instructors, look for someone who has experience with refresher lessons – quite a few instructors do, especially in London. Some schools also offer a rapid test booking service and intensive lessons so you can get your UK licence sorted quickly, if you need it quickly.

Resources & links

Official sites

Official YouTube channels

Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency

Theory test resources

There's a huge amount of stuff out there. I recommend you buy a copy of the Highway Code - it's only £2 - but you probably don't need to buy anything else.

  • The Highway Code - only £2, you should buy a copy.
  • Other official books and DVDs, such as the popular £25 Complete Learner Driver pack. check Amazon or your local bookstore
  • Your instructor - most instructors have theory materials available, some provide access to online resources or apps too. Check Driving-Lessons.co.uk profiles for details.
  • Apps - check your phone / tablet / computer's app store, there's a big choice available.
  • YouTube - lots of official and unofficial videos available
  • Gov.gov - Practise your driving theory test - free, official practice test
  • TopTests.co.uk - free mock theory tests, lots available

Practical test resources