Are graduated driving licences coming in?

Are graduated driving licences coming in?
New drivers will face restrictions on the times of the day they drive and the number of passengers allowed in their cars, if a government review decides it will help cut accidents.

In a year which has already seen a number of shake-ups for UK motorists - this June learner drivers were granted permission to have lessons on Britain’s motorways - we explain why graduated driving licences could be the next.

What is a graduated driving licence?

A graduated driving licence puts a set of restrictions on new drivers who have recently passed their test, for an initial period of time.

Government statistics repeatedly suggest as many as a quarter of newly-qualified motorists are involved in an accident during their first two years on the road – with 400 young UK drivers sustaining serious or fatal injuries each year.

Although no countrywide scheme is currently in place, the government is exploring its possibilities, with the ultimate aim of reducing this worrying number of early-stage accidents.

What restrictions do new drivers currently face?

Graduated driving licences

At the moment, the only specialised treatment reserved for new drivers is the reality of harsher punishments for breaking the law.

Any driver who has been unaccompanied on the roads for under two years will lose their licence if they amass six penalty points. This could mean an automatic disqualification for being caught using a handheld mobile phone behind the wheel, an offence which carries a punishment of six penalty points and a £200 fine.

In England, Scotland and Wales, drivers have the option of displaying a ‘P’ plate on their vehicle to indicate they have recently passed their test. These can be left on a vehicle for as long as a driver chooses, but are not a legal requirement.

In Northern Ireland, new drivers are legally bound to display an ‘R’ (Restricted) plate on their vehicle for their first year on the road. This restricts them from travelling any faster than 45mph during this period.

Many safety groups and politicians now agree that more should be done to manage the risks faced and posed by new drivers across the UK.

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What could be restricted under a UK graduated driving licence?

Details of what is may be considered under the terms of a new graduated scheme are unconfirmed, but possible restrictions would likely centre on:

  • driving curfews – restricting new drivers from roads during certain times
  • passenger numbers – legal limits on how full a new driver’s car can be
  • lower alcohol limits – reduction in the legal threshold for blood readings
  • speed limits – new drivers restricted to slower speeds
  • engine sizes – power output limits put on the new drivers’ vehicles
  • mandatory ‘P’ plates – required for up to two years after passing a test

It is thought a period of restriction – likely six months – may also be put on learner drivers, during which they would not be able to apply to take a driving test.

Any ban on passengers would be unlikely to include immediate family members, it is understood.

What stage is the graduated driving licence at?

In February 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May tasked the Department for Transport (DfT) with investigating the possibility of a graduated licencing scheme.

She was responding to questions posed from the opposition bench during Prime Minister’s Questions as to whether an initiative would be considered to help curb the number of accidents.

In April 2018 it was revealed that a ‘pilot’ graduated scheme will be launched in Northern Ireland during 2019/20.

If successful, it is likely such an initiative will be rolled out across the UK.

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Where else uses a graduated driving licence?

Drivers in the US, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are already subject to the rules of their own graduated licencing schemes.

Novice drivers in the Republic of Ireland undergo a two-year period of probation, with ‘N’ plates a necessity throughout, and are also subject to lower drink-drive limits than more experienced road users.

In parts of the US, and Down Under, new drivers are not permitted to drive at night without being accompanied by an experienced driver. They also face limitations to the number of passengers allowed to share a ride.

While it is expected to be considered, a repeat of any ‘dark driving’ ban here in the UK is seen as unlikely, due to our early winter sunsets and the likelihood of new drivers having to drive home from work in the dark.

Could a graduated driving licence affect my car insurance?

With the possible restrictions imposed on those with a graduated driving licence, it is natural to think that those restrictions may affect any insurance policy you take out.

Additionally, the imposed restrictions may create questions over whether a traditional twelve-month insurance policy is worth what can be particularly expensive for new drivers.

Traditional car insurance can seem like a great expense to new drivers, so some look for alternative methods of insurance that might be cheaper.

Pay by Mile, from RAC Car Insurance is one such method. Instead of committing to a traditional twelve-month policy where large charges are often asked for at the beginning of the policy, Pay by Mile allows policy holders to pay for the number of miles they drive, plus a small parked premium which can be paid monthly or annually, to keep you covered even when you’re not on the road.

Find out more about Pay by Mile and whether it is suitable for you or get a quote.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that a graduated driving license will affect the way drivers are insured, though the potential limitations on speed and a curfew suggested for these drivers may change the types of policies that a holder of a graduated driving licence could take out.

For example, black box car insurance currently monitors how well you drive, including the speed a vehicle travels on each journey. Others, such as Pay by Mile, may only allow those over the age of 21 with a graduated driving licence.

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What do RAC experts say about graduated driving licences?

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams says the motoring group welcomes plans to look into graduated driving licences, having requested a review in previous years.

“The RAC has been calling for a reform of driving education for young people and the introduction of graduated driving licences with a minimum supervised learning period and restrictions on the number of passengers permitted in the car, so this is a very positive step towards preventing the loss of young lives on our roads,” he said.

The RAC’s Report on Motoring showed that over a third (35%) of young drivers feel the standard driving test does not cover all the skills required to cope with the demands of driving today.

It also said that more restrictions could have a positive impact on new drivers with costs for car insurance likely to fall if younger motorists were kept on a tighter leash. 

Mr Williams adds: “Evidence from other countries where some form of graduated driver licensing is used shows that it has been successful in reducing the number of collisions involving young drivers, but in order for it to be as effective as possible it has to be part of an overall package of measures including more extensive driver education.

“We welcome a common sense approach to driver education such as the recent decision to allow probationary licence holders to take lessons on motorway driving.”