Can I Learn to Drive Without an Instructor?

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When it comes to learning to drive, there’s no one-size-fits-all. People develop skills in a variety of different ways and time frames. You might opt for hourly lessons, an intensive course, or perhaps a mix of the two! Even before you settle on an approach, the big question is often: who is going to teach me to drive?

It may surprise you to learn that you don’t actually have to take lessons with a bona fide, DVSA-approved instructor. Some people, for example, may prefer to learn with a parent or friend and skip the process of finding and paying an instructor altogether!

We get it—you’re a ‘do it yourself’ type of person. While we love that self-confidence and enthusiasm, we also think you need to be realistic about what earning a licence actually entails. You can’t necessarily just drive like your Dad, even if (and often especially if) he’s been doing it for years.

The DVSA have very particular guidelines regarding how people should drive. As they design and mark the practical test, it’s in your best interest to adhere to this approach. So, if your plan is to learn to drive without the help of an approved driving instructor (ADI), you might want to hold off until you hear what we have to say…

Not as cheap as it sounds

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Image source: Josh Appel via Unsplash

There’s no two ways about it: learning to drive costs money. Swerving the help of an instructor to take free lessons with someone you know will save you a lot of dough—right? Well, not necessarily. When you pay for the services of a DVSA-approved instructor, you’re not just forking out for their expertise.

In most cases, you will also be getting the use of their car, for both lessons and the practical test. This means that the instructor has covered the cost of all necessary insurance. Plus, they’re responsible for maintaining the car so that it’s fit to be used in test conditions. These necessities ain’t cheap—which you’ll soon find out if you’re left to organise it all for yourself!

Furthermore, if you don’t invest in professional tuition, you might end up wasting a lot of money re-taking tests. That’s because mastering the art of driving and passing the practical test isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

The magic formula

A circle with three arrows pointing in different directions, beside a road marked by two markers

In order to earn a licence in the UK, you don’t just need to learn to drive, you must learn to drive in the DVSA-approved way. Being able to take a car smoothly from point A to point B won’t necessarily cut it!

At first glance, this might seem a little unfair—surely knowing how to control a car is enough? The thing is, though, driving is a complex skill. There are lots of rules to understand and a range of potential hazards that you need to be prepared to deal with in a safe manner. The DVSA have carefully designed the practical test to set you up for a successful life navigating the roads of the UK, no matter what is thrown at you.

All qualified instructors have a thorough understanding of the standards set by the DVSA. The rigorous training they undergo also means that they know the most efficient way of taking you from the basic skills, like steering and braking, to more complex areas like roundabouts and manoeuvres. By the time they deem you to be test-ready, you’ll be a confident, safe driver who can show off all of the skills the examiner is looking for.

Think about it—you wouldn’t head into a GCSE maths exam without being taught by someone with a thorough understanding of the curriculum. In the same way, it’s not advisable to head to the test centre armed only with the tips provided by your Uncle Trevor. We’re sure he’s a nice bloke, but it’s unlikely he can match the hard-earned knowledge of a professional ADI.

Safety first

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Image source: Jametlene Reskp via Unsplash

The reason you have to pass various tests to become a qualified driver is that having a car is a big responsibility. Driving carries with it various risks and these are increased when you’re still at the learning stage. Most instructors’ cars come fitted with dual controls that give them the power to take over, should you make a wrong move.

If you’re out driving with a friend or family member and you accidentally do something dangerous, however, they won’t be able to take command of the car. Sure, your passenger can try to grab the steering wheel, but braking and accelerating (two of the most important controls) will still be up to you. This puts everyone in the car in a fairly vulnerable position if you’re still getting to grips with driving! It’s why we recommend only taking practice lessons when you’ve had at least some professional tuition.

Letting someone else take the wheel

When supervising a learner driver, striking the perfect balance in terms of approach is hard to do without training and experience. ADIs are used to driving with learners. They’re prepared for any mishaps and know how to respond.

While friends and family may happily offer to provide lessons in their car, it could be a different story once you’re out on the road. Handing over control of your car to a learner driver is, understandably, a little nerve-wracking. You may find that they become cautious or overbearing out of fear that you’re going to damage their precious motor.

Alternatively, if you end up with someone super laidback who is happy to let you zoom around without much instruction, you’re unlikely to get the guidance you need to reach test standard. It’s also a recipe for disaster in the form of a car accident!

Even good drivers have bad habits!

Road barrier

The longer you drive unaccompanied, the longer you have to pick up bad habits. While most of us learn to drive to the DVSA’s standards, once out on the road alone, people develop slightly different ways of doing things. Now, you can’t go completely off-piste—everyone has to follow the rules of the road. But the way you hold the steering wheel, for example, may change as you get older. Most of the time this won’t cause any big issues, but it’s best to try and avoid deviating too far from test standards.

The point is, if you only take casual lessons with someone you know, chances are you may pick up a few of their bad habits. People who have held a licence for a long time can be overly confident in their abilities. This means they can have a blasé attitude about the ‘right way to do things’. As a result, no matter how experienced they are behind the wheel, their influence on your driving might not always be a positive one.

Finding the one

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If you’re determined to go down the friends and family route, you must make sure that whoever takes you out is the right person for the job. According to the DVSA, anyone supervising a learner driver must:

  • Be over 21
  • Have held a full licence for at least 3 years
  • Not use a mobile phone while doing so

These are not guidelines you can shirk, either. You can be fined up to £1,000 and get 6 points on your provisional (yes—you can get points on your licence before you’re even qualified!) for driving without the right supervision. While we’re on the topic of rules, make sure you display L-plates on the car whenever you are driving.

Thinking about meeting in the middle and paying someone who isn’t qualified but has a lot of experience supervising learners to take you out? Not so fast. It is illegal to exchange money for driving lessons with anyone who is not a DVSA-approved instructor. You might think your mate deserves a few quid for putting up with your terrible parking skills, but you’d be breaking the law! So, if you’re parting with cash, make sure it’s going to someone with the right credentials.

Learning to drive without an instructor: The bottom line

Keys with 'Learn to Drive' keyring

Do you actually need to take lessons with a trained instructor? Legally, no. Is it recommended? Yes. You just can’t beat the teaching experience and deep understanding of DVSA requirements that a qualified instructor provides.

For the best chance of becoming a great driver and passing the test quickly: do both! In other words, work with a qualified instructor and take practice lessons on the side.  Now that’s a recipe for driving success!

Already spent a lot of time learning to drive without an instructor and not sure where to go from here? No need to fret! You’re the perfect candidate for a refresher course. This gives you the opportunity to spend a few hours with an experienced ADI, during which they’ll assess your driving and get you test-ready. To access to a top notch instructor or discuss your options in more detail, simply give PassMeFast a ring on 0333 123 4949.

By Isobel Robb

Isobel enjoys the freedom of the open road and loves driving to new places. She's here to offer helpful hints and tips to improve your motoring skills. When not keeping up to date with the latest driving info you can find her discovering new restaurants or exhausting her Netflix subscription.

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