16-year-olds to drive "licence-free" cars

Under new government guidelines concerning driving licence entitlement laws, 16-year-olds will be able to take to the public roads in “driving licence free” cars. But what do the changes in licencing laws actually mean for motorists?

Basically, it allows individuals of 16 and over to drive light quadricycles – vehicles “with an unladen mass of not more than 350kg, not including the mass of the batteries in case of electric vehicles, whose maximum design speed is not more than 45km/h [28mph].”

Up to now, from age 16, UK residents have always been allowed to ride mopeds or scooters with a maximum design speed exceeding 28mph but not exceeding 31mph, and an engine not greater than 50cc in size.

But as part of the new law to be introduced from the 13th January 2013 – and a first in the UK – motorists’ aged 16 will now also be allowed to drive more conventional four-wheeled vehicles on UK roads, too.

The test for the light quadricycle class of vehicle remains the same as a conventional moped assessment, incorporating a Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) element, a theory test and a final practical exam.

There are both benefits and drawbacks to the introduction of the new licencing laws, however.

The new initiative means younger motorists will be able to gain experience of driving from an earlier age, improving their road craft and holding them in good stead for the step up to training for, and hopefully receiving, a full UK licence.

On the other hand, as the test isn’t quite as focussed as a conventional driving exam – even though it comprises a theory and practical assessment – the lack of in depth training and sharing roads with much faster vehicles means a disparity in driving skill and experience – and vehicle ability – can often be cause for concern.

The change in entitlement means manufacturers such as Renault are likely to bring in eligible vehicles, previously scheduled for release solely in continental Europe, to the UK market.

The new laws would mean the French manufacturer’s lower-powered Twizy 45 version of its all-electric urban mobility vehicle would be eligible for 16-year-old hopefuls.

However, there is a catch. Costing around £6,200, car insurance could be two-thirds the vehicle’s purchase price, at up to £4,000 in the first year. This will likely drop off quickly, however.

Besides, think back to when you were 16 – what price did you put on your freedom?