Learning to drive and Beyond

(Extract from Dispatch Summer 2006)

The help of ADIs in encouraging their pupils to respond to the initial invitation to take part in this study has been a major factor in obtaining a large database of information on learner and novice drivers.

Update from the Cohort II project

In 2001 the Department for Transport (DfT) commissioned a major study into the way learner car drivers prepare for the test; perform during the test and how this relates to their subsequent accident and offence records and their attitudes to road safety issues.

By August 2005 128,000 test candidates had been invited to take part in the study by completing questionnaires, in 16 waves at 3 monthly intervals. Of the 42,990 who returned questionnaires, almost half (48%) had passed the test. These were contacted again and invited to complete and return further questionnaires at 6 months, 12 months, 24 months and 36 months after their test. By August 2006 when we cease data collection we will have many thousands of responses on the experiences of new drivers during their first years of driving.

Learning to drive

Earlier results were reported in Despatch Autumn 2004. Since then we have looked in more detail at how people learn to drive. Ninety nine per cent of test candidates have taken some professional instruction and the graph below shows that, on average, women take more than men, and older people take more than younger people (however it should be noted that the numbers of people over 40 taking their tests are very small). Older candidates also have a lower pass rate than the younger ones (40-50% for those aged 17-24, but down to around 30% for those aged 50+).

Learning Statistics

Sixty five per cent of candidates who passed their practical test said that they had some practice with friends or relations, with females slightly more likely to report having no practice. For those who did have practice, over half had practice for 15 hours or less. Eleven per cent of males who passed their test had previously ridden a motorcycle. One interesting and somewhat disturbing finding is that one in eight of those who passed the test said they had never driven in the dark before they took their test (see table). For those taking their first test (whether or not they passed it) this figure rose to one in six.


We have taken an early look at the type of accidents novice drivers have (there will be much more to come on this). Most accidents were relatively minor, involving no injury, and most were described as being bumps or scrapes.

On average almost one in five of the respondents had at least one accident in the first six months after passing their test and 70% had experienced a 'near miss' (i.e. a situation where they had the impression of only just avoiding an accident) at least once. Of those who had an accident in their first six months of driving almost three quarters admitted that this had been partly or wholly their own fault.

In their second year of driving almost one in six had an accident (this actually represents a more than 50% reduction from the first period which was only six months) and 75% experienced a 'near miss'. Of those who had an accident in their second year of driving half claimed that their accidents were not their fault at all.

Hazard perception test

Early indications on the impact of the introduction of hazard perception testing into the theory test suggest that learners now spend more time in preparation for the theory test (up from 13 hours to 21 hours on average). Most learners studied for the theory test on their own, with only around 10% studying with their instructor.

Final analysis
Once the data collection is completed, later this year, the team will be able to complete their analysis and consider their findings. Without the support of DSA examiners, driving instructors and their pupils, this major study would not have been possible.

By Trevor Wedge Chief Driving Examiner

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