The cost of learning to drive will rise by up to £500 under government plans to introduce more rigorous training and testing for both learner-drivers and instructors.
The biggest reform of driver training for a generation, due to be announced this month, will force learners to have extra lessons and prove that they have acquired key skills before taking the practical driving test.
The changes are being made to address the rising death toll from crashes caused by inexperienced and reckless young drivers.
More than 14 young drivers and their passengers are killed every week in Britain. Male drivers aged 17 to 20 are almost ten times more likely to be killed or seriously injured behind the wheel than men aged 40 to 59. One in three young drivers admits overtaking while unable to see what is coming, compared with one in ten older drivers, according to a survey commissioned by Brake, a road safety charity.
Under the proposals, to be published in a consultation document, learners will have to accumulate skills in a series of modules, with their attainment verified by a driving instructor. The modules will include basic skills such as parallel parking as well as areas not now tested, such as using high speed roads and driving at night.
Some elements of the Pass Plus scheme, under which newly qualified drivers take between five and ten extra lessons in return for cheaper insurance, will be incorporated in the training for all learners. The changes will increase the time it takes to qualify, meaning fewer 17-year-olds will gain licences.
The standard of tuition will also be improved.
Many learners do not realise how variable the quality of instruction can be. Fewer than 7 per cent of the 36,000 instructors hold the top Grade 6 qualification and most are Grade 4, which is one above the unsatisfactory level that triggers a requirement for a further test.
Eddie Barnaville, the chief executive of the Driving Instructors’ Association, said that the cost of learning to drive was likely to rise by about 50 per cent because candidates would need to take up to ten extra lessons and each would be more expensive.
The average cost of a lesson is £22 but this will rise to about £32 because instructors will face greater training costs. There will also be fewer of them, especially part-time, meaning there will be less competition.
Mr Barnaville said a candidate taking the recommended 42 hours of professional tuition was likely to see the costs rise from £1,000 to about £1,500 once the new rules were introduced next year.
“That may sound a lot of money but isn’t much when you consider you are obtaining a skill for life. Better training will save lives and what price can you put on that?”
The AA welcomed the improvement in training but said many poorer families would struggle to afford lessons.
Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety, said: “It could damage the employment prospects of young people if it takes a lot longer to get a licence. We would also be worried if the new test penalises those academically less able.”
Jim Fitzpatrick, the Road Safety Minister, said in a Westminster Hall debate last month: “Young people are almost fatalistic about having accidents as novice drivers. They know that they must do some training to pass the test, but they seem to expect to teach themselves ‘real driving’ once they have passed.
“We do not believe that young people should be left to learn such a vital skill in that fashion.”