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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

What you told us about driving independently


pupil driving in a car with an adi

Last week we updated you on our campaign to encourage learner drivers to broaden their driving experience before taking their test.

We let you know what we were doing to encourage learners to spend more time practising driving in the dark. Thank you for your feedback and comments, they’ll help us better understand how we can work with you to achieve this.

In this blog post, I’d like to share what we’re doing on another part of the campaign - encouraging learner drivers to spend more time driving independently before taking their test.

What we mean by ‘driving independently’  

Before I share the research with you, I think it’s important I clarify what we mean by driving independently.

To us, it’s when your pupil isn’t receiving any instruction or help from their accompanying driver (whether this is you or a family member or friend).

We see this as a key part in the transfer of responsibility from you to your learner. There’s a big difference in driving safely with help from someone else to being ready to control the car, navigate safely and drive safely among other road users without that support.

Understanding how learners view driving independently

Our research shows that 44.7% of learners said they spent less than 4 hours practising driving independently. This is a lot lower than we expected, especially as 94% of you said you set your pupils independent driving objectives.

So, this suggests there’s a difference in how driving independently is understood by you and your pupils.

Telephone interviews with learners

Following this, we carried out further interviews with 20 learner and newly qualified drivers to find out what they understood by driving independently.

Their responses fitted into 4 themes:

Group 1

Driving in their car on their own

Group 2

Driving without instruction from anyone or anything

Group 3

Part of the driving test

Group 4

Never heard of independent driving

These findings confirm that some learner drivers don't share our understanding of what is meant by driving independently.

Agreeing on a clear definition

So, before we decide how much we want to increase the percentage of learners who say they’ve done independent driving, we need to do some more research.

This will help us to come up with a definition or series of actions that best describes driving independently. It needs to be a definition that your pupils understand and makes it an essential skill they need.

What prevents your pupils from driving independently?

We also want to understand what stops your pupils from asking for or wanting to practise driving independently with you or with a family member or friend.

We can then use this insight to design guidance to help your pupils better understand why this essential skill is so important to staying safe after they’ve passed the driving test.

Mock tests

Thank you to those of you who responded to the mock test survey. We had over 7,000 responses, which is brilliant.

We’ll be using this feedback to help design the mock test guidance.

Once we have a draft of the guidance, we’ll hold focus groups with you and your pupils to make sure it meets your needs before we publish it.

To help us with our on-going research, please let us know in the comments how you describe driving independently to your pupils and at what stage you start introducing this into your lessons.

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  1. Comment by Donna posted on

    Driving without me intervening or helping (unless safety critical) or unless they ask for help. Usually following signs or sat nav or familiar route so they are thinking about their routine as well as what they are doing. I usually introduce this nearer to test when they are more ready and have the knowledge and more experience to deal with driving independently.

  2. Comment by bira singh posted on

    driving with uncle tom , is not the best idea, as bad habits are hard to break, min hrs with instructor is the answer,

    • Replies to bira singh>

      Comment by Graham Carroll posted on

      Sorry to disagree with you Bira, but although bad habits are hard to break, you can't teach experience, so whilst I agree with some sort of minimum lessons, I feel any form of driving is a good thing.

  3. Comment by Denise Coleman posted on

    I am currently awaiting my test, which has been put back a few months due too problems with examiners in my area, I am totally gutted! I have been driving independently though in my partners car. Which is invaluable experience for me.

  4. Comment by Gary Walker posted on

    Driving independent is for my pupils controlling the car themselves thinking for themselves about the road the dangers and the hazards ahead and all around them.
    They should know and have completed reading the highway code and using this bank of knowledge making the correct decisions for themselves they should be demonstrating their knowledge of the law and rights of way and showing good calm courteous driving using all signs road markings and forward planning to show me they can drive with no input or any talking from me.
    I do this at the end of the course with a mock test near the real test after gradually dialling down my help over several hours until they are solo and I am just observing.

  5. Comment by Laurie Hinds posted on

    I don't describe "driving independently" to my pupils. Their existing understanding of the term is along the lines of: they would choose where they want to go and would drive there without any help/input. That common understanding of the term independent driving is therefore not likely to figure in many/any lessons. Driving lessons are just that - lessons.
    However built into every lesson is time when my pupils are tasked to drive with no input from me - albeit they know I'm sitting next to them with dual controls and a voice. In the first lesson and other early drives that time will be spent for example: moving off and stopping further along the road as we have just done; or maybe turning again at a junction we have just briefed and driven. In later lessons it may be: take us home; to the test centre; or some other landmark; or follow a route you might use after passing your test. In some such cases they may enter the destination in my sat nav.
    In none of these scenarios do I use the term independent driving. I do however make it clear I want them to do everything themselves with zero input from me.
    I think DVSA is wasting a huge amount of time pursuing this wholly theoretical approach and terminology. My (cynical!) guess is that it's (largely) down to the wish by senior members of DVSA to be seen - in the eyes of THEIR OWN KEY STAKE HOLDERS, INCLUDING GOVERNMENT MINMISTERS - to be doing more towards the future safety of new drivers. The term independent driving is probably considered a good sound-bite that will impress DVSA's key stake holders and possibly even some of DVSA's senior managers.

    • Replies to Laurie Hinds>

      Comment by VINCENT MILLARD posted on

      Independent Driving was a good term in 1971-2 when I was learning to Drive.
      It was seen back then as esencial that any Pupil had extra Driving experience with a Qualified Driver of over 5 Years alongside them but, without Dual controls as in the Teachers Car. And taking Routes other than the "Test Route". In all but the most severe Weather and Night Driving. What has changed?

    • Replies to Laurie Hinds>

      Comment by perter fowler posted on

      Laurie, you live in the real world, you are so right in what you say about the DVSA and their self promoting wish to impress the hierarchy and justify their position and salary/pensions and even to get a knighthood!

      The other replies seem to have missed the whole point of your
      blog altogether!

      The amount of health and safety within the motorcycle training system is even more ridiculous. Most of the set up is to justify the high salaries and pensions and not really relevant to the real world of riding.

  6. Comment by Dawn Holmes posted on

    As an instructor I explain to my learners they need to learn to drive without me telling them what to do. They may not realise this is independent driving. I will correct this but I think the message and ability to do this is more important than the terminology to be honest. I encourage this very early once completing a topic. For example approaching a left turn. By the end of this lesson they should be able to do this without my help. Hope that makes sense? I do insist on them completing mock tests before practical test where they drive in different environments without my instruction just following a sat nav route from start to finish.

  7. Comment by audrey kennedy posted on

    Independent driving= person driving without any instruction, from instructor or family member, once all subjects covered including country and dual carriageway, (lucky as stay in glasgow) we both agree that its time to try, no set time, as everyone different,

  8. Comment by Alam posted on

    Once the pupil has understood the basics of driving with help from the instructors and carry out the simple routines, after that the independent driving subject should be introduced to the pupil.

    Kindest Regards

  9. Comment by Graham Carroll posted on

    I'm sorry but evertime I comment on these blogs, I feel I am commenting on the obvious.
    Why wouldn't want pupils to drive independently, that's the aim isn't it?
    If pupils have responded, stating they didn't drive independently often, well the instructor was obviously not happy that they could safely do that. Sharing the risk between the instructor and pupil is all very well, but a safety minded professional trainer, will also take into account, the effect that risk sharing may have on fellow road users.
    To finish, let me re affirm, it is our aim to get them to drive independently.

  10. Comment by Pen posted on

    I work with my pupils to get them driving independently so that they do not need any input from me. This starts from day one with moving off safely, by the end of the session they don't require help for that step and can move off independently. I do this with each stage of driving so they become familiar with their own independence and responsibilities are transferred to them throughout each stage. Before we do any mock tests I like them to be able to drive totally independently on all types of roads, so they are confident in their own abilities and at making good decisions for themselves.

  11. Comment by Mary Jeannette Chilv posted on

    My name is Mary Jeannette Chilvers and I done a lot research since 1992 and also includes Road Safety and adhering to DVLA High Way Code.
    I feel there are two many accidents on the roads by teenagers and drivers who do adhere to speed limits and drive to fast on all roads particularly the Major Highways noted on the M1 driving over the limit on the hard shoulder middle lane and outer lane over 100mph. I feel the drivers causing accidents speeding should loose their driving licence by all Police Community and Motorway Police till drivers take another driving test and fill in a written questionaire submitted by DVLA and record their name and address and the Driving Instrutors Nane of Driving School their names and address before that those at fault have a special licence before they allowed on the roads again noted on licence that licence has been removed and take another test with a special driving plate so Police will know and their licence taken from offender will not be allowed a licence to drive a car van lorry bus or motor cycle for life. I feel the United UK Higways should all promote all these so that speeding accidents will be cut down to nil suggest 20mph Rural inner towns and cities built up areas 20mph Inner City Towns Dual Carriage Ways 30mph and Major Motor Ways Inner lane 40mph Middle lane 50mph Outer lane 60mph It is the only way to save accidents pile ups innocent victims getting killed that's babies children teenagers adults elderly senior citizens getting killed Also it is not always the fault of driver hitting a car in front if the break leaving a junction and suddenly stop or putting breaks because they driving too fast putting on breaks at short notice. I would appreciate your comments of my research for you I trust will accept my findings and put in place with Police on all UK Roads Highways England and UK Also cut the speed of railroads that cause accidents derailing or collisions
    I have received you email today which has prompted me to think you should know my findings Thank you for keeping g in touch by my email address Kind Regards Mary Jeannette Chilvers Advanced Motorist. I would like your postal address to write please.

  12. Comment by Barry Edwards ADI, Cumbria. posted on

    When my pupil has reached the level of skill where I rarely intervene for anything important (I don’t mean perfect) we talk about them choosing a simple route to start off with, maybe driving home a couple of miles away to kick things off. It is explained in a client centred way and mutually agreed upon so they know that they are responsible for all risks including the route, involved.
    Then in the debrief they analyse their own performance and we work onwards from there building things up to include the sat nav or following road signs.

  13. Comment by Josep posted on

    Independent driving help learners both pre test and after test. It helps with observational skills , forward planning, and a good confident for them to know that they are in control .

  14. Comment by George Dawkins posted on

    I always allow pupils to drive independently after a certain amount of lessons under instruction and also depending on the pupils level of progression, ability and confidence. I will get to follow satellite navigation, road signs and allowing them to spot roads markings, speed limits and other road signs. sometimes asking pupils to go a head and turn right on roundabouts without telling the exits and allowing them to work it out for themselves as well as keeping in their correct lanes.

  15. Comment by Peter Bamforth posted on

    Driving independently as a learner can be a good and a bad idea;
    Typical example; one male student got a car for Xmas 2019 asking me the “ instructor” would it be ok for me to drive my car to college with either parents sitting in with me?
    I replied yes as long as you stick to my standards SAFE DRIVING , since then he’s had regular lessons with me and we are just going back a step trying to recover his real learning.MSM was a big problem, asked him “ does mum& dad pick you up on mirrors? “ reply; dad just shouts at me and we end up arguing.
    I have advised him to stick with me until he can prove that his independent driving is to standard, this concludes that independent driving does not suit everyone!

  16. Comment by Robert Brown. posted on

    I describe driving independently to my pupils something like as follows:
    "Your driving is now at a consistent standard and I rarley need to help you on lessons.
    So if you're happy, I'll let you try some driving independently.
    This means that you can think of me as a passenger and you'll be responsible for driving correctly and safetly at all times.
    We'll drive on a variety of different roads just like you've been doing over the course of your lessons.
    I will remain quiet apart from giving you directions as I usually do.
    After a period of time, say 15 or 20 minutes, I'll ask you to park up so we can have a chat on how you feel the drive went and we can talk about anything relevant if needed.
    We'll then decide between us to either continue with some more independent driving or do some practice on anything that may have occurred during the drive (or a combination of these, ie: I may need to prompt for certain points only).
    If at any time any sort of issue arrises that may be potentially dangerous or you simply ask me for some guidance then of course I'll help you as I do usually"...
    I introduce independent driving to my pupils when I can see that they would benefit from this (or they have covered the syllabus of driving and they rarely need any guidance from me).
    Some pupils occasionally ask me if they could try some independent driving because they see it written on there progress notes that I've designed.
    I keep these notes in my car so we can have a look together before the start of each lesson.
    If (for example) the pupil hasn't yet covered (say) roundabouts at this stage.
    I'll only give them directions that avoid roundabouts.
    So they only drive independently on roads that they should be able to cope with at their current level of experience.
    I believe this independent driving method, does help my pupils to feel like they are in control and it helps them to build up their confidence.

    I hope this is of some help.
    Thank you.

    • Replies to Robert Brown.>

      Comment by Amanda Holmes posted on

      This is exactly as I work Robert. In order to be a safe driver, not just to pass their test, clients need to be able to be independent. The sooner it’s introduced to them, they realise it’s their responsibility to take control.

      • Replies to Amanda Holmes>

        Comment by Robert Brown. posted on

        Hello Amanda

        Thank you for your comment.
        Keep up the good work...

        Kind regards.

    • Replies to Robert Brown.>

      Comment by Linda Brooks posted on

      To the point. Exactly how it should be.

  17. Comment by Dave posted on

    I introduce independent driving as soon as I think the pupil understands enough to be safe, I always assure them that although I may not be giving as much instruction I am still aware and there if needed. I find it has a great effect letting them know that it is them in charge of the vehicle, I also explain that the driving they do with family members is invaluable as it promotes the feeling of independence and responsibility.
    When the pupil is capable I sometimes ask the them where they would like to drive to and let them plan the route and drive there, that way they think about the roads they will be taking and have a plan in mind rather than at the end of the road etc... where than don't know where the are heading. after a few times I find they can chat and drive and feel a lot more confident in their lesson.

  18. Comment by Adrian posted on

    Driving independently for me is following the sat nav being told too drive too an iconic place,making the pupil think judge anticipate all the what if s,as well as driving independently for me the most important is being AWARE of all other roads users as stated (what might the bike do,is the lady turning or has she left her signal on ,where is the lorry going,too get the idea of how the pupil is driving and observing the q and a tecnique is vital.i also think driving independently on roads the pupil is unfamiliar with is much better practise,some independent driving needs small inputs too test the pupils mind is on the road .ie how’s school ,you looking forward too uni,yes some may say discussions should only enforce driving,I disagree when the pupil passes there test their passengers will barely mention driving,I tend too begin mocks before I start independent driving then introduce the independent side at a later time,I find using a mock sheet first under instruction lays the foundation for independence.

    • Replies to Adrian>

      Comment by Robert Brown. posted on

      Hi Adrian

      I agree that passengers (post test) will unlikely be talking about driving.
      I also use this approach with some pupils when I think they can cope.
      I'll randomly ask a question that's not driver related to see if they are still able to drive safely...

      Kind regards.

  19. Comment by Angus McFarlane posted on

    I encourage my pupils to do as much private practice as possible. If I know they are going to be doing it, I get mum or dad to come out with us on a lesson so I can show them what things to look for and not let develop into bad habits (mirrors, blind spots, and so on).

    At some point with every pupil - especially the ones who would happily book a test for tomorrow even when they can't drive in a straight line - I point out that the examiner isn't going to tell them how to drive, and neither will anybody else be doing that once they pass and are out on their own - in most cases, with their own kids in the back in heavy traffic. Therefore it is vital that they can handle what is happening around them without assistance from anyone - which is the level we are aiming to reach before they take their tests.

  20. Comment by Alex Armour posted on

    I introduce independent driving at the later stages, as they need good control of the vehicle and are able to be fully aware of their surroundings before transferring that extra responsibility to them. I always reinforce my briefs with "you have to be able to do this safely without me sat next to you once you've passed your test" which helps them realise they will eventually be fully responsible for their actions and the vehicles they're driving. Driving independently is no input from me unless help is asked for, or if intervention is necessary.

  21. Comment by Peter Scrase posted on

    I get my pupils to work on a subject until they feel fairly confident they can handle it on their own then let them have a go assuring them that I am there if they need help. This makes working up through the levels more fun for them and helps them realise their responsibilities and builds mutual trust.I Then get them to set the sat nav to a short destination that they know eg local supermarket and keep an eye on them. At the end of the destination we discuss how it went. If all goes well we move up to the next level. Gradually I add a little more responsibility until they are test ready. I don’t do full mock tests because I don’t feel they work- just a series of mini ones.

  22. Comment by Ray Bradding posted on

    Personally I teach my learners usually for 2-3 hours on a set task... usually a general drive through the town, watching hazards and highlighting potential dangers/hazards.(full talk, then cutting down on my input) Then after I feel there ready I allow them the responsibility to make decisions this is for some, early on during there training, others I prompt if they require. This is what I class as independent driving, where there able to make decisions without prompting. Of course I assure they know I’m always ready in case the unexpected should happen.
    Once the student is happy with the general driving and we’re faced with new challenges I prompt and if there unable to we reflect and try again, again allowing them to make there decision. If this causes them a problem we return to me talking through, until there happy with being independent. But I let them become independent early on as possible so the lessons can flow and this allows them to pick up the task better.

  23. Comment by Judy hale posted on

    If I have understood you correctly you have only surveyed a very small percentage of people regarding independent driving. Is this correct?

  24. Comment by Steve Watson posted on

    Why do you think mock tests are so important? I very rarely conduct them.

    My pupils' competence is assessed during independent driving sessions. They are introduced as soon as the pupil understands what is required of them. Sometimes during lesson 1 - 'can you move off and stop without any help?' That's independent driving.

    • Replies to Steve Watson>

      Comment by John Farlam posted on

      Totally agree about your comments on independece, but mock tests have at least three functions...
      1. to make sure the learner is up to standard. This is probably the least important as you should know - and probably do based on tour comments.
      2. To check your understanding/knowledge of how well the learner is doing and what they might do differently in the perceived 'pressure cooker' of a test. To do this you need the 'total experience'. We don't always know what we think we know.
      3. to give the learner experience of being tested formally - so that they fully understand what to expect on the day (simply telling them about it is not sufficient for most - if not all... Don't give 'em an explanation - give 'em an experience!)

      • Replies to John Farlam>

        Comment by Robert Brown. posted on

        Hi John

        We'll said...
        I totally agree with you...

        Thank you.

  25. Comment by Brian A Thomson posted on

    I actually start giving independence after each subject, are you able to move off on your own ?, show me you understand how to approach junctions, I do this all the way through the training, I even do a "right/left" drive where I will take them to an area, stop and ask them at the end of the road to turn right and alternate between left and right for ten junctions and hopefully we land up in the correct area, I also ask the student to start from a certain area in the town and let me see four "landmarks" in the order I've asked, this does prove more challenging as they have to mentally plan the route to avoid seeing the landmarks in the incorrect order, good fun.

  26. Comment by Paul Savage posted on

    I totally agree that minimum advice or guidance be gradually reduced to just observing and then give your student a Mock Test to let them feel how it maybe on their Test knowing they will have to Drive for themselves for 38 / 40 mins with no help except to ask for Directions if unsure of where they are going,

  27. Comment by David posted on

    All learner drivers when competent, confident and not always willing, should be actively encouraged to drive independently even if in the early stages of driving and if I t is only for five minutes initially, this should then gradually be increased to a level where the accompanying driver does in effect become a passenger.

    Holding the learners hand until nearly time for test serves no real purpose, and certainly does help the learner post test who is then faced with stark realities of driving a car on their own.

  28. Comment by Jedidiah: Alyth posted on

    I introduce driving independently to my customer in their first lesson using the progress record card, explaining my instruction goes from guided to prompted then finally to them completely independent of my input. I also explain the 20mins independent driving during their L test is 4 out of 5 likelihood of following sat nav and 1 out of 5 possibility of following route signs. Once they show and agree to independence in their driving, I introduce mock testing a couple of weeks before the L test

  29. Comment by Tim Clayton posted on

    I describe it as keeping their driving performance high while also making navigation choices, dealing with distractions (like me talking/asking), and using aids appropriately. I introduce simple examples of the first two after a handful of hours, perhaps 20% through the syllabus topics (as listed at and the final one soon before mock-testing (around 75%).

  30. Comment by Matthew Leeden posted on

    Introduce independent driving when competence is high on most areas, with the use of sat-nav and road signs. They make all the decisions with minimal intervention from me. They will never be truly independent until they pass their test and drive with no-one else in the car to pick up the pieces if the drive goes wrong, and try to prepare them for this level of independence as much as I can.

  31. Comment by Gary posted on

    Independent driving as stated many times above is clearly our goal as instructors. If more experience which takes time is needed why were the 2 manoeuvres taken out of the driving test? Surely if they were left in and the new manoeuvres were added learners would be getting more experience.

    The length of the test would not have been affected as students would be asked to perform any one of 6 manoeuvres.

  32. Comment by Laurie Hinds posted on

    Picking up on Gary's point, I too have never understood why the turning exercises were dropped from the test. More importantly I still don't know how to explain that if a DVSA examiner asks for a pull up on the right (against Highway Code advice) it's fine, but if a candidate goes against anything else in the Code it's a fault. Including pull up on the right in tests is "normalising" poor - not to mention often risky and/or inconsiderate - driving technique. It dilutes all the other principles from the Code and encourages bad driving.
    Going back to "independent driving" can someone explain how following sat nav directions is any more independent than following an examiner's directions. On test, candidates drive the car and make driving decisions independently - they do so throughout the test. Hence referring to one phase as "independent driving" is at best meaningless, or at worst DVSA trying to impress themselves or their stakeholders.
    Most of the comments here confirm that we instructors encourage our clients to drive with no input as soon as it is safe and practicable. That's how it should be. We might use the term independent driving; we might not.

  33. Comment by Julia Zouch posted on

    As soon as I feel that a pupil is capable of driving a familiar route, I ask if they know the way home from where we are, and if the answer is 'Yes', I simply say 'Go home'. They generally look a bit surprised, then rise to the challenge, and enjoy the feeling of being trusted. I use the exercise to judge their readiness for even more responsibility, and give help if needed. Once home, I compliment them on their first independent drive.
    We talk about the satnav/road sign element of the test, and refer to it as the independent drive, so it is a familiar term. Test standard for me is when they can drive a route of about 10 miles through a variety of traffic conditions, a lot of it in an unfamiliar area, following signs or the satnav, and the only help they get is discussion of new or difficult situations. Teaching commentary driving is a great help with independent driving, and setting up exercises in which they are asked to drive without help introduces the idea of independence throughout the training period.

  34. Comment by Jedidiah: Alyth posted on

    I respect your comments and I agree with re-instating to the L test the two previously removed manoeuvres. I’m a recently qualified ADI and am not convinced removing them was a necessary decision. They would provide more experience for the driver and add to their skill, competence and subsequent level of safe driving for the rest of their driving career. I believe it would be good to change the total of manoeuvres to six.

  35. Comment by jon. bright posted on

    hi, I have conversations with all pupils , we are looking at you becoming independent over time, so they can visualise an end goal. from a coaching point of it allows the switch from guiding or supporting into "letting go". if it is done in a client centred way and agreed at the correct time it is very effective and can help to boost confidence.
    I also do mention that when it is time for your test, you will need to make your own safe decisions . to put it into more perspective for them " it doesn't have to be perfect (we can all make mistakes) but it must be safe "
    The examiner is there to assess your judgement and risk management ultimately. looking at various comments, I think you are all probably correct, as they are your views and opinions based on your beliefs and experiences.
    I do outline the training programme from the early lessons and that does include mock testing.
    In the driver record book I have created for the school I franchise with, we have a section on independent driving and also test info. Always asking the pupil to reflect on how they did, achieving targets and how they felt etc. then assigning new goals from there.