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Driving Licences

Volume 830: debated on Monday 5 June 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce a graduated driving licence or other restrictions on newly qualified drivers.

My Lords, every death or serious injury on our roads is a tragedy, and we continue to work tirelessly to improve road safety for all users. Our broad approach to improving safety for new and novice drivers includes new technology and improving education while reinforcing vital road safety messages through our THINK! campaign. There are not any current plans to introduce driving licence restrictions on newly qualified drivers.

My Lords, I am greatly relieved to hear that Answer from my noble friend, because there are numerous rumours going round. I am sure young people will be greatly reassured. Nevertheless, is she aware of the other real problem that young people face today: that it is very difficult to get a test date when you are ready to take it? Is she aware that there are sellers out there using bots to hoover up at least a quarter of all the exam slots and reselling them to learners desperate to take their test? Furthermore, there appear to be dozens of websites offering to find learners earlier booking slots for a fee as high as £300. Can my noble friend look closely at this abuse of the situation and take the appropriate action?

I thank my noble friend for raising that. When I was Roads Minister until fairly recently, I worked very closely with DVSA to ensure that those bots cannot get access to the booking system. I will take his comments back and ensure that DVSA is doing all it can to make sure that those slots are not being used by other people. At the moment, there are about half a million people already booked into slots, and there are about 44,000 slots available in the next 24 weeks. The key to all this—it loops back into the road safety element of this Question—is that we must ensure that drivers are ready to take their tests. At the moment, fewer than 50% pass, so the number one message for learner drivers must be: be ready and then you will be able to pass your test and drive with confidence.

My Lords, if it takes up to a year after you have applied for a test to get one, it is not surprising that people apply early, because they will have to practise driving in the long period before they get to the test. Can the Minister confirm that the only way to get a test quickly is if you are rich and can afford a couple of hundred quid to bribe one of these middle people?

I am certainly not going to confirm that, because, as I have said, I have worked closely with DVSA to ensure that we limit that as far as possible. Indeed, I do not believe that the reselling of tests is a huge problem. Again, working with DVSA, we have created over 900,000 more slots—37,000 per month—to try to get as many people through as possible. As I have said, if people are better prepared, they will pass first time and will not need a secondary test.

Would my noble friend accept that road safety does not depend just upon drivers? Would she consider recommending to the Government, following the example of Paris, a ban on these wretched electric scooters?

I agree with my noble friend that road safety does not only require the safety of drivers. Indeed, that is why the Government adopt the safe system approach, which looks at drivers, vehicles on the road and the road itself. The Government are, of course, looking at e-scooter safety. We are analysing the evidence and will come forward with further proposals soon.

My Lords, are there any plans to restrict older people in this particular regard, or can we go on driving for ever?

We have no current plans to restrict anybody on the basis of age. However, as my noble friend will agree, sometimes some people will feel that they are no longer able to drive, or their doctor may recommend that they should no longer drive. In that case, one is legally required to get in touch with the DVLA and have one’s licence revoked.

My Lords, every year over 400 young people, predominantly male, are killed or seriously injured on our roads. To go back to the beginning of the Question, probationary periods are common across the world for new drivers. Brake, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the insurers themselves support probationary periods with some restrictions. In the UK, we use them for motorcycles and large vehicles, so why are we not looking at using them for car drivers?

At the moment, the Government are undertaking an enormous research project in this area because we feel that we need the evidence base. If one looks across all the different countries where they have some sort of limits on licensing, there is no one size fits all; some countries put limits on before driving test are taken in terms of the amount of time one has to learn, while other countries decide to place certain restrictions post the test. We are doing a research project called Driver2020 and are investing £2 million in it; it kicked off in 2019 and involves 28,000 new and novice drivers. We are testing five different interventions to find out what we think might work in the future.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned age. I am sure I am right in saying that a big proportion of people taking the test are age 17, 18 and 19, and many of them will need a driving licence to find employment, or at least it will be very helpful to them when they have one. What alarms me, among other things, about this long waiting list—the Minister has already told us that more than half of the people taking tests have to do it twice at least—is just how much the average cost is to a 17, 18 or 19 year-old, with top-up lessons if it is a prolonged period waiting for a test. Just how much does it cost? It is really alarming if there is a barrier to people simply on the basis of not being able to afford to do it.

I accept that there is a cost to driving, to car ownership and to ensuring that one is safe on the roads in respect of one’s responsibility to other people. We believe that the time taken to ensure that one is fully trained is important. That is why the second piece of research that we are doing is around a graduated learning scheme where we have asked the Driving Instructors Association to explore whether we can introduce a modular approach to learning. That will help all candidates go through the process and become safe drivers, and it may help them to minimise the costs as they learn the right skills at the right time.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Northern Ireland there is a system in which drivers who pass their tests are required to display restricted plates and are restricted to driving below 45 miles per hour? Is she also aware that the biggest barrier to young people getting into a car and driving is the cost of insurance, which is prohibitive?

I am aware that some form of graduated driving licence has been introduced in Northern Ireland. In Great Britain, we also have a probationary scheme that falls under the new drivers Act, whereby if any new driver gets six points within the first two years, they have their licence taken away and must take their test again. We are working with the industry on insurance. There may be something helpful around telematics in that regard. I do accept that insurance for young drivers is more expensive, and that is because they can often be riskier drivers.

My Lords, since 2018 learner drivers have been permitted to take motorway driving lessons with approved driving instructors, but few make use of this rule change. According to a recent AA survey, 83% of drivers say they have never seen a learner on the motorway. Has the department made an assessment of how many driving schools offer motorway lessons, and does the Minister believe that increasing the availability of these would better prepare learner drivers?

The noble Baroness raises a very important point, and that leads back into the graduated learning scheme that we are looking at to ensure that new drivers have the opportunity to try out all sorts of different schemes. We are also looking at one of the interventions from the Driver2020 research, which is a logbook that will record the time and type of driving, including motorway driving. But there are some parts of the country where there are no motorways, so I think it is really important that all driving instructors think about the types of roads they are taking their candidates on to ensure variety.

Is the noble Baroness aware that a root cause of the difficulty of getting a test is that the examiners, who are public servants, are all leaving to get better-paid jobs elsewhere?

It is the case that there have been some issues regarding retention at DVSA. However, I would also say that DVSA is looking to recruit an extra 300 driving examiners. We are looking at all of this carefully to ensure we have the full cohort of driving examiners available.