UK driving test: how many lessons you need to pass, what’s in the theory and practical tests and how much it costs

UK driving test: how many lessons you need to pass, what’s in the theory and practical tests and how much it costs
UK driving test: how many lessons you need to pass, what’s in the theory and practical tests and how much it costs

Gaining a driving licence is a major step in life for many people. For some it simply offers an element of freedom, for others its vital for work or family commitments. 

But whatever your motivation, to get one you’re going to have to sit the driving test. 

From finding lessons to preparing for the test and understanding what’s expected of you, it can be a complicated process so we’ve pulled together all the information you need to get you started en route to obtaining a car licence.

Applying for a provisional licence

The first step on the road to getting a full licence is to apply for your provisional licence, which allows you to take to the road under instruction. 

For a car licence, you can apply for your provisional licence from the age of 15 years and 9 months but you can’t learn to drive until you are 17. In England, Scotland and Wales, you can apply online and it will cost £34 or via post, where it will cost £43. In Northern Ireland you must apply by post and it will cost £62.50.

To apply you must be able to read a licence plate from 20 metres and provide proof of ID, such as a passport, and proof of address. 

Driving lessons

Once you’ve got your provisional licence and have turned 17 you can start getting lessons, going out with either a qualified driving instructor or a suitably experienced friend or family member.  

If you chose to go out with a friend or family member, they must have held the relevant full licence for at least three years and be aged 21 or over. You also have to make sure you have valid insurance to drive the car and must display L plates on the front and rear of the car.

It’s a good idea to have at least a few lessons with a professional instructor. First off, they know the test procedure inside out and know the best practice for every element of driving. As well as their knowledge and experience, they also have dual-control cars with their own insurance, and are trained to stay calm no matter how inexperienced/nervous you are – not something family members always manage.

dad teaching son to drive
Lessons with family members aren’t always the best or most relaxing way to learn (Photo: Shutterstock)

Recommendations from friends or family are a good way to find a local driving instructor but if that’s not possible the DVSA has a database of approved driving instructors. Professional instructors have to display a badge in their windscreen to prove they’re registered with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), so check for this.

If you don’t have the right supervision you can be fined up to £1,000 and have six points put on your provisional licence.

How much do lessons cost?

The price of lessons varies depending on where you live and which instructor you chose but budget in the region of £25-£30 per hour. Many driving schools have introductory offers, including free first lessons, and often offer discounts if you block book lessons.

How many lessons will I need?

There’s no definitive answer to this. How many lessons you need to pass the driving test comes down to the individual. Some learners will pick it up quickly while others will take a little longer. You might find you get caught out by one single element or manoeuvre and have to spend an extra lesson or two getting to grips with it. 

Ian McIntosh, CEO of RED Driving School explains: “Everybody learns at different rates and there are many factors that might affect the number of lessons needed to feel test-ready, such as age, frequency of lessons, supplementary driving practice and learning style. It’s vital to remember that everyone is different and learning to drive is a process that requires patience and perseverance.”

Read more: Seven tips for passing your driving test more quickly

That’s echoed by Peter Brabin, head of training at Bill Plant Driving School, who says: The DVSA states that it takes the average UK driver around 45 hours’ worth of lessons to learn to drive, accompanied by an additional 22 hours of practicing with a responsible adult. But it varies from person to person and there are many factors that affect exactly how long it will take someone to pass their test; from individual circumstances and their level of motivation to drive, right down to more complex road conditions per area – some areas have a mix of mini roundabouts, standard roundabouts, complex roundabouts, multi-lane roundabouts, spiral roundabouts and controlled roundabouts to deal with, and that’s just one example.

The bottom line is that a good instructor will be able to judge when you’re ready to sit the test 

How much is the driving test and how do I book it?

There are two elements to the UK driving test – the theory and the practical.

The theory test costs £23 while the practical test costs £62 on weekdays and £75 at weekends. In Northern Ireland, the practical costs £45.50 on weekdays and £62.50 at weekends. You must pass the theory test before sitting your practical test.

driving test
You have to sit theory and practical sections of driving test to obtain a licence (Photo: Shutterstock)

To book the theory test in England, Scotland or Wales you can call the DVSA on 0300 200 1122 or do it online. You’ll need your driving licence number, an email address and your credit or debit card. In Northern Ireland you can book it online or call 0345 600 6700.

To book the practical test in England, Scotland and Wales the number is 0300 200 1122 and the web service is here, for Northern Ireland  the number is 0345 247 2471 or the web service is here.

What is in the theory test?

There are two elements to the theory test, both of which you must pass.

The first part is a series of 50 multiple-choice questions which cover the Highway Code, traffic sign knowledge and essential driving skills. You can take a practice theory test here.  You have 57 minutes to complete the test and must get at least 43 of the 50 questions right.

The second part is the hazard perception test. This features 14 video clips featuring everyday road scenes and at least one developing hazard. You have to correctly identify the developing hazard and are awarded points according to how soon you spot it. There are a total of 75 points available and you must score at least 44 points. You can see a sample hazard perception test here.

If you fail either part of the theory test you must resit and pass both elements before sitting your practical test. If you pass, you have up to two years to sit the practical test. 

The practical test

Once you’ve passed the theory test and your instructor thinks you are ready, you can book your practical test. 

How long is the driving test?

The practical driving test lasts around 40 minutes but before driving you will be asked to complete a vision test to make sure you can read a number plate from 20 metres away. 

You’ll also then be asked a “tell me” question, where you explain how you’d carry out a safety task such as checking tyre pressures or tread depth, before you start to drive. Later in the test, you’ll be asked a “show me” question where you have to demonstrate how you’d carry out a safety task, such as how to wash and clean the windscreen. 

driving test
The practical driving test lasts for around 40 minutes (Photo: Shuttestock)

Around 20 minutes of the test will be “independent driving” without instruction from the examiner, where you’ll have to follow either traffic signs or directions from a sat nav. 

What manoeuvres are in the practical driving test?

As well as your general driving ability, you will be asked to carry out certain manoeuvres during the test. 

You’ll be asked to pull over and pull away, including normal stops at the side of the road; pulling out from behind a parked vehicle, and a hill start.

You might also be asked to carry out an emergency stop.

You’ll also be asked to carry out on reversing exercise. This will be either: parallel park at the side of the road; park in a parking bay – either by driving in and reversing out, or reversing in and driving out (the examiner will tell you which you have to do); pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for around two car lengths, and rejoin the traffic.

What are major and minor faults and how many faults are you allowed?

There are three categories of faults you might make during the driving test.

A dangerous fault involves actual danger to you, the examiner, the public or property. A serious fault involves something potentially dangerous.  A driving fault is not potentially dangerous, but if you keep making the same fault, it could become a serious fault.

Dangerous and serious faults are sometimes known as “major” faults and even one means you’ll fail the testYou can have up to 15 driving or “minor” faults. 

Read more: The driving test centres around the UK where you’re most likely to pass or fail the exam

The examiner will only stop your test if they think your driving is a danger to other road users. Otherwise, you will only find out if you have passed or failed once you’ve completed the test and are back at the test centre. 

If you pass the examiner will give you a pass certificate and tell you what, if any, faults you made. 

If you fail, the examiner will tell you and explain what faults you made. 

If you fail, you must wait at least 10 days until you can resit the test. 

If you pass, you can start driving immediately as long as you have the correct insurance. 

ripped L plates
Once you pass your driving test you can start driving immediately (Photo: Shutterstock)

Can you use your own car for the driving test?

Most learners will choose to take their test in their instructor’s car. However, you can use your own car as long as it meets certain criteria as set out on the DVSA website

Are intensive lessons or crash courses a good idea?

Some driving schools and instructors offer intensive courses, also known as crash courses, which aim to condense the learning process into a shorter-than-usual time frame. Instead of one or two hours a week, they will cram up to 35-40 hours of lessons into as little as two weeks. 

For drivers who need to learn quickly for work or personal reasons, or for those who need a refresher before sitting the test, they can offer a quick method of getting up to speed, but they’re not for everyone. 

Ian McIntosh says: “There is no substitute for real world experience of driving on the roads – learning over time increases the skill and confidence of learner drivers, as they are exposed to a greater range of driving conditions over a longer period of time. “However, in extenuating circumstances, intensive courses might be the best option – for example in the case of an expectant mother. In line with our main goal of improving road safety, all our intensive lessons are carefully tailored to the needs of each individual, based on previous driving experience. This can range from daily two-hour lessons to consecutive days of back-to-back lessons.”

Peter Brabin adds: ” irstly, the term ‘intensive’ is unclear as it can vary from doing two hours’ worth of lessons per week right through to doing 40 hours in one week. The majority of instructors at Bill Plant Driving School, and many more around the UK, aren’t keen on offering an intensive course simply because intensive courses teach pupils how to pass the practical driving test quickly, but don’t necessarily teach a learner to drive safely. It’s just not effective for the majority of pupils and could teach them bad habits that could have a negative effect later in life.”

Is Pass Plus worth it?

Pass Plus courses are additional instruction available to drivers once they have passed their test. They’re not compulsory but do cover elements not dealt with during regular lessons, such as nighttime and rural driving.

A recent study found that, contrary to popular belief, they make little difference to insurance costs, but there is still an argument that they are worthwhile.

Ian says: “Pass Plus courses and bespoke post-test training courses are hugely beneficial for all types of drivers, be it nearly or newly qualified. 

“Complicated driving situations that might not have been covered in standard driving lessons can be intimidating. Courses are tailored to the needs of each individual and focus on a wide range of daunting driving situations, such as rural roads, complicated city routes or night-time driving.

“The benefits aren’t solely about saving money but also improving road safety and attitudes towards driving.”

Peter adds: “Whilst many new drivers will of course benefit from Pass Plus, the premise behind it is becoming quite outdated, especially as learner drivers have been allowed to drive on UK motorways in their lessons since June 2019.”

However, he believes the courses can still have value: “Whilst learners can now drive on the motorway, and many Britons will no doubt be used to taking lessons in a range of different weather types and at different times of the day, there are many who won’t have or won’t be fully confident in doing so until after they’ve passed their practical driving test.”

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