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1.3 million new drivers predicted to hit Britain’s roads this year

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Britain could see 1.3 million new drivers on its roads this year due to a backlog of tests caused by the pandemic, predicts new research from Direct Line Motor Insurance.

The first 12 months of the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021) saw the lowest number of driving tests taken since data was first published in 2007/08, with fewer than 500,000 tests conducted as the country was affected by the pandemic. This is more than a million fewer tests than in the previous 12 months and Direct Line is predicting the coming year could see a boom in new drivers, as test centres see an influx of learners from the past two years eager to take their tests.

With an average of 1.6 million tests being taken every year, combined with an estimated 1.2 million tests that had been delayed from 2020/21, suggests that as many as 2.8 million driving tests could be taken this year, which means an average of nearly 8,000 every day across the UK’s 380-plus test centres.

With some 750,000 learner drivers passing their tests every year, combined with an estimated 520,000 motorists who would have passed their tests in 2020/21 had they been able to, this could result in almost 1.3 million people passing their tests this coming year.

The data also shows that 2020/21 saw the highest pass rate in five years, standing at 49.8 per cent, meaning this year is likely to see 68 per cent more drivers take to the roads than before the pandemic. While significantly fewer people were able to take their test, the pandemic pass rate was 49.8 per cent, 3.4 per cent higher than the five-year average (46.4 per cent) and the highest rate since the data was first published, suggesting that those who did take their tests during the pandemic had benefitted from better preparation and were therefore more likely to pass.

2020/21 saw only 436,044 driving tests taken, which was 74 per cent lower than the five-year average. This suggests that an estimated 1.2 million learners who would ordinarily have taken their test over this time were not able to, and an estimated 550,000 fewer drivers passing their driving test as a result.

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Number of practical driving tests taken and subsequent pass rates, 2015-2021

YearNumber of tests conductedNumber of tests passedPass rate
2015/161,537,735723,44447.0 per cent
2016/171,730,936815,16847.1 per cent
2017/181,718,519795,89246.3 per cent
2018/191,664,219761,97245.8 per cent
2019/201,599,566734,60045.9 per cent
2020/21436,044217,03149.8 per cent
Five-year average1,650,195766,21546.4 per cent
Source: Direct Line Motor Insurance analysis of practical car pass rates, 2021
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Despite the lower number of tests taken, around 3.6 million people have been learning to drive since the pandemic began, nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of whom were aged 18­–342. The majority (91%) of those learning to drive during the pandemic said the effects of the pandemic had a positive impact on their learning experience. Of these, being able to practice on quieter roads (62 per cent) was the most positive factor, with more free time and being able to practice with a family member (both 58 per cent), also highly valued.

One of the main differences during the pandemic has been how drivers learn. The majority (87 per cent) of those who have a full UK licence learned with an instructor, half (49 per cent) of whom only used an instructor.

But parents have become driving instructors over the pandemic. A quarter (26 per cent) of Brits with full licences have helped their child to learn. This shift in the way people have been learning to drive is demonstrated by the fact that nearly three million parents (eight per cent) have insured their child on their car since the start of the pandemic, with a further four million (12 per cent) intending to do so once their child starts to drive.

Lorraine Price, head of motor insurance at Direct Line, commented: “It was a shame to see that learner drivers were so heavily affected by the pandemic as being able to drive is a pivotal part of a young person’s journey to independence. But it is inspiring to see that this has not deterred this generation of learners, who have had to be flexible and have adapted to this unique situation to achieve the highest pass rate in years. Overall, it’s extremely encouraging to see that the desire to get onto the road safely still remains despite the hurdle of the pandemic.”

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Regional findings

London saw the greatest number of learner drivers unable to take their tests, with 177,000 learners missing out. However, it was Scotland where learners were most affected by the pandemic, with 74.3 per cent fewer learners taking tests and over two thirds (67 per cent) fewer people passing.

Wales saw the second lowest number of driving tests taken in 2020/21 with just 19,869 learners taking a test – a reduction of almost 70 per cent on the previous year.

Number of practical driving tests taken and pass rates by region, 2019/20-2020/21

RegionNumber of tests conducted, 2019/20Number of tests conducted, 2020,21Change
Scotland123,63331,732-74.3 per cent
North East46,20511,905-74.2 per cent
East of England162,48642,127-74.1 per cent
London244,33167,342-72.4 per cent
East Midlands117,96132,892-72.1 per cent
South East218,86962,423-71.5 per cent
North West193,16143,026-70.3 per cent
Yorkshire143,49543,026-70.0 per cent
Wales64,65219,869-69.3 per cent
South West119,20037,787-68.3 per cent
West Midlands157,03450,390-67.9 per cent
Total1,591,027456,907-71.3 per cent
Source: Direct Line Motor Insurance analysis of practical car pass rates, 2021

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Summer of thunderstorms warning for motorists

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As weather forecasters predict the country could be in for a summer of thunderstorms, a leading insurance comparison firm warns motorists to check their insurance policies before venturing out. 

The Met Office says a ‘hotter than normal’ summer will bring outbreaks of torrential downpours, hail and thunderstorms as temperatures cool after heatwaves.

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A glimpse of what could be a blistering summer, with high temperatures, heavy downpours and thunder and lightning was seen last weekend – particularly in the south.

Heavy and thundery rainfalls are predicted for the coming weekend, especially in the west.

Quotezone.co.uk, a leading car insurance comparison website, says any damage to cars caused by driving through flash floods might not be covered by insurance policies. It warns motorists to carefully check their policy exclusions, and even if routes are partially blocked, drivers should think twice before using waterlogged roads.

If drivers find themselves stuck in the car during a thunderstorm, official advice from the Met Office is to wind up the window and stay inside the vehicle – the metal frame of the car should act as a conductive Faraday cage, passing the current around the passengers and into the ground, should it be struck by lightning.  Open or soft top vehicles are best kept under cover. 

Greg Wilson, Founder of Quotezone.co.uk, comments: “Motorists who have taken out third party only or third-party, fire and theft insurance wouldn’t be covered for any storm damage to their vehicles – only fully-comprehensive policyholders are likely to be protected in those cases.

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“If a storm is predicted, look at official flood warnings, avoid roads that are likely to flood and allow more time for your journey, note you may have to pull over and wait it out if the downpour starts to affect your visibility – not forgetting to put on the hazard lights.

“Unfortunately, if motorists do decide to drive through waterlogged roads, there’s a very real risk that they won’t be covered for any resulting water damage to the car – even fully-comprehensive drivers.”

Greg also warns motorists that have to go out, to make sure their cars are roadworthy before setting off, which includes checking tyre tread and windscreen wipers.

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More than 20,000 people seeking to share a lift amidst rail strike chaos

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As commuters are hit with the largest rail strike in 30 years, leading UK car-share platform, Liftshare points to car-sharing as a practical solution to growing commuter frustrations and rising traffic levels.

Over 40,000 rail workers walked out in protest on Tuesday 21st June, with more strikes planned for the following Thursday and Saturday. Commuters have been advised not to travel, as services are suspended across the country.

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“Commuters being asked not to travel is just not practical, with reports of hospital staff staying overnight to avoid endangering patient safety. Car sharing is a real untapped resource when it comes to making these essential journeys. There are more than 47m empty seats on our roads every rush hour and that’s only set to increase as more people are forced into their cars during the rail strikes.” said Ali Clabburn, Founder and Chairman of Liftshare Group.

“For those that can drive, we’d ask them to consider sharing a lift. There are over 20,000 people looking to car share on our liftshare.com community site. It’s free to join and connect with people making the same journeys. This makes driving more affordable, which is ideal with the added pressure of rising fuel costs.”

Traffic levels have reportedly increased in a number of UK cities, exacerbating commuter emissions which account for 5% of the UK’s total emissions – 18 billion kg of CO2e annually.

President of the AA, Edmund King, spoke to Radio 4’s Today Programme about the ease and environmental benefits of Liftshare. “You just go to the website, put in the journey you want to take and see if other people are going the same way. It’s a very efficient and environmentally friendly way to travel.

“As the rail strikes cause huge disruption to people across the UK, sharing a car is a sustainable and cost effective solution to the disruption of the rail strikes. Over the last 20 years, we have seen spikes in car sharing interests correlate with strike action. The cost of living crisis means more people are actively seeking to reduce their travel costs permanently and car-sharing is a simple and effective solution to this.”

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Nearly 90% of drivers break speed limit in 20mph residential areas

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As many as 87% of Britain’s car drivers routinely break the speed limit in 20mph residential areas, according to the latest figures from the Department for Transport.

The new statistics released earlier this week, compiled throughout 2021, also show 51% of drivers still go over the 30mph limit.

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Even though speeding came down from a spike of 63% during the first lockdown, the return to pre-pandemic levels of traffic looks to have had no long-term impact on driver behaviour.

The data also reveals that 48% of motorists broke the speed limit on motorways, although this fell to 11% of cars for single carriageways last year.

Drivers exceeding the speed limit by more than 10mph hovered around 5-6% last year, while 10% went over the speed limit by at least 10mph on motorways.

Only 1% of car drivers on single carriageways broke the speed limit by more than 10mph.

Respondents who admitted to exceeding the speed limit gave the top excuse as: ‘I drive according to the speed of other road users’. On 20mph roads, users most often cited the speed limit as being ‘inappropriate’.

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Other popular reasons given for breaking the speed limit were: ‘It’s sometimes safer to go faster’, ‘pressure from other drivers’ and ‘I don’t look at the speedometer enough’.

The government figures are based on driver behaviour on roads with free-flowing traffic where there are no impediments such as bends or steep climbs.

Responding to the new data, Greg Wilson, Founder of leading car insurance comparison platform Quotezone.co.uk, says: “It’s staggering to realise that half of all motorists are still breaking the speed limit in residential 30mph zones and there is no encouraging longer-term downward trend. Residential areas are one of the areas drivers should be most cautious, given the high volume of pedestrians and children playing so it’s worrying that this is still an issue. 

“While many drivers might think it’s a minor fault breaking the speed limit by a small margin, the law takes a different view. There’s no ‘look the other way’ if motorists go over a speed limit by less than 10 percent – that’s a myth.”

Motorists can face a fine of £100 and three penalty points on their licence if they break the speed limit – which can increase to six points and a fine of up to £1,000 if they’re doing more than 41mph in a 30mph zone.

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Wilson says penalty points can add anything from 5% to car insurance premiums for the first three points on a licence, which can rise to 25% for six points.

Wilson continues: “If convicted, it’s important to be honest and fully disclose the offence to your insurance provider, because failure to do so can result in the policy being invalidated, meaning you won’t be covered.  Some providers do offer car insurance policies with competitive rates for convicted drivers, which can help motorists find an affordable premium, but it probably goes without saying that the best way to keep your car insurance price low is to obey the speed limit.” 

Last year, the Welsh Government announced plans to make 20mph the default speed limit in residential areas, with eight areas trialling the scheme, including Llanelli in Carmarthenshire, St Dogmaels in Pembrokeshire and Cilfrew in Neath Port Talbot.

At the time, Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, said: “Making 20mph the default speed limit in residential areas is a bold step that will save lives.

“We have made progress on reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads over the 21 years of devolution, but despite our considerable efforts the highest proportion of all casualties – 50% – occurred on 30mph roads during 2018. This cannot be tolerated, so a reduction to 20mph on our residential and other busy pedestrian urban roads has to be the way forward.

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“Decreasing speeds reduces accidents and saves lives, and alongside this the quality of life will improve, making room on our streets for safer active travel. This helps reduce our environmental impact and has a positive outcome for our physical and mental wellbeing.”

Sgt Ian Price, from Go Safe – Dyfed-Powys Police Road Harm Reduction Unit, said: “Dyfed-Powys Police, with the support of Go Safe, is working with our road safety partners to help change driver attitudes in recognising a cultural and potential legal change, regarding restricted road status from 30mph to 20mph.

“Historically we have grown up to know that streetlights mean 30, but potential legislative changes in Wales in 2023 will default a restricted road status to 20mph. Too many people are being killed or seriously injured in existing urban areas, in which a reduction in speed limit along with compliance, can only reduce the number of these incidents. We can also make our communities safer places to live by walking and cycling those short journeys.”

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