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18 top tips for first time drivers

Mar 9, 2021

The moment you first hold your driving licence in your hands is unforgettable – the start of many years of motoring. To make sure those years are happy and stress-free, check out our top tips for first time drivers.

We’ll guide you through the most important things to know when you’re a novice behind the wheel, from understanding road laws to buying first time driver insurance.

1. Your first solo drive

Taking to the road without anyone else in the car for the first time is a strange experience. When you’re used to having an instructor or supervising driver along for the ride, suddenly being the only person in the car – and expected to manoeuvre a huge metal box around safely – can feel very odd.

It’s a good idea to make that solo voyage in the best possible conditions to avoid unnecessary stress, for example travelling a route you know well, at a quiet time of day. Before you know it, driving alone will feel like second nature.

It’s a good idea to make that solo voyage in the best possible conditions to avoid unnecessary stress.

A young driver smiling as she driver her car
2. Take extra care for the first few years

Having enough knowledge and skill to pass your driving test is one thing but being able to cope with real-world conditions on the roads day in, day out is something else. Statistics show that the first few years of driving are particularly risky, especially if you’re a younger person.

One in five drivers crash their cars within a year of passing their test, and each year over 4,000 young drivers are killed or seriously injured on UK roads. Passing your driving test is a major milestone in your journey as a driver, but there’s still plenty to learn when you ditch the L plates.

3. Don’t drive on a big night out

The risk of a fatal crash quadruples when newly-qualified drivers have a car full of passengers of a similar age. When younger drivers have an older adult in the car, the risk drops. Risk is also higher at night, when factors such as empty roads, poor visibility, tiredness and yourself or other road users being under the influence of drink or drugs come into play.

However tempting it is to save your mates the cab fare home, a car full of boozy friends could be a noisy distraction that sends you off the road. In the first few years of driving, it’s wise to stick with taxis and night buses on a big night out, instead of taking your car.

4. Understand the brain science

Before the brain reaches full maturity at the age of around 25, we have poorer appreciation of risk which can lead to thrill-seeking behaviour, overconfidence and impulsivity. Younger drivers also take longer to identify and respond to hazards.

As a first time driver, you should remember that you are still building up skills and experience. Be responsible about when you drive, who you take in your car and pay close attention to the road at all times. Your developing brain means you perceive risk differently to older drivers.

Before the brain reaches full maturity at the age of around 25, we have poorer appreciation of risk which can lead to thrill-seeking behaviour, overconfidence and impulsivity.

5. Remember that you’re on probation

For the first two years after passing your test, any car-related incidents are approached differently by the police compared to how experienced drivers are treated. The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 sets out important rules that apply to new drivers.

For a start, you only have six points on your licence for the first two years of driving compared to the usual 12. As minor offences are usually dealt with using Fixed Penalties such as receiving three points, if you chalk up two minor offences in your first two years then your licence will be revoked. To get back on the road, you would need to apply for a provisional licence and pass your driving test once again.

A more serious offence resulting in six points being awarded would mean instant revocation of your licence. The bottom line is to be a careful driver from day one.

6. Shop around for new driver insurance

Insurance for first time drivers doesn’t come cheap. Being fresh out of driving school means that statistically, you’re more likely to cost an insurance company money by making a claim. To cover some of this cost, insurers charge all younger and new drivers higher insurance premiums.

The good news is that the cost should come down over a few years, as you build up a no-claims bonus. In the meantime, compare prices carefully and consider whether there are steps you can take to bring down the cost of your first time driver insurance, such as keeping your vehicle off-road overnight, opting for a less powerful car or taking out telematics insurance.

7. Do not use your mobile when driving

Evidence shows that younger people are more likely to use their mobile phone while driving than older, more experienced drivers. This is despite newer drivers needing to pay more attention to the road because they have less experience in judging situations and responding to hazards.

After using a phone, you require 30 seconds to regain the ability to pay full attention to the road. Even using a hands-free phone has been shown to make reaction times 30% slower than the drink-drive limit. From 2021, the law around phone usage behind the wheel is being tightened up. You can now get a £200 fine or six points on your licence for this offence. The rules apply even if you’re just taking a picture or scrolling through a music playlist.

Evidence shows that younger people are more likely to use their mobile phone while driving than older, more experienced drivers.

Texting while driving car. Irresponsible man sending sms and using smartphone. Writing and typing message with cellphone in vehicle.
8. Take the Pass Plus test

Pass Plus is a six-hour practical driving course aimed at boosting new drivers’ skills. It can be taken at any time within the first year of passing your test, and it can unlock cheaper young driver insurance premiums as insurers see you as lower risk when you have taken the course.

The course is designed to help new drivers build up confidence and skill, focusing on common anxiety areas such as rural driving, city driving, driving in adverse weather, and going on motorways and dual carriageways. Some new drivers find the course helps to ease the transition from driving lessons to fully independent motoring.

9. Don’t be tempted to mislead your insurer

If you find the quoted price of first time driver insurance a bit steep, you might wonder whether putting another household member on the policy with yourself as a named driver would work out cheaper. Beware – this practice is known as ‘fronting’ and it can land you in trouble with both the police and your insurer.

Misleading your insurer about the primary user of the car in order to obtain cheaper insurance is a form of fraud and it could see you being prosecuted and your insurance policy being cancelled. If you are found to have been fronting during a claim, you might be forced to pay out compensation and costs yourself, and will find it very difficult (and expensive) to find car insurance in future.

10. Choose your car carefully

You might have a dream car in mind, but don’t rush out to the dealerships until you understand all the factors and costs involved in running a car. When you first start driving, insurance costs can be high, and they will be even higher if you go straight for a car that is seen as risky, for example a modified vehicle or a powerful, large vehicle.

Car insurers use a banding system developed by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to decide which cars should cost more to insure. Factors include things like purchase price, repair costs, safety rating, performance, car security and the availability of parts. Choose a car from a lower insurance band to help bring down the cost of your premiums.

You might have a dream car in mind, but don’t rush out to the dealerships until you understand all the factors and costs involved in running a car.

The front of a new car parked on a country road on a sunny day
11. Consider using P plates

Driving around with L plates marks you out as a learner on the road, helping to ensure that other drivers give you the time and space you need. Once you pass your driving test you are not obliged to display any plates on your car in most of the UK, but some people choose to voluntarily display green P plates. In Northern Ireland displaying P plates is a legal requirement for one year after passing your driving test.

The P stands for probation, meaning that you are a recently-qualified driver and still building up your driving skill level. 

12. Look out for local low emissions zones

Several large UK cities are following London’s lead in banning the most polluting vehicles from city centres. In the capital, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is expanding to cover all areas within the North and South Circular roads (A406 and A205), while Bath, Bristol, Birmingham and Oxford are also implementing similar schemes within the near future.

Low emission schemes typically require vehicles to meet a certain Euro emissions standard in order to enter a zone, so you should think twice about buying an older vehicle if you live in one of these places or visit regularly.

13. Get to know your car

Owning a car is a big responsibility. If something goes wrong with your vehicle and this causes a collision, it could have life-changing consequences, for you or for other people. At the very least, it could cause you inconvenience and expense.

In addition to ensuring your car is serviced regularly and taken for its MOT test each year, it’s a good idea to learn some basics about car maintenance, such as checking your oil level, filling your washer tank and testing your tyres for pressure and wear. Picking up on problems early can save spending more on repairs further down the line.

In addition to ensuring your car is serviced regularly and taken for its MOT test each year, it’s a good idea to learn some basics about car maintenance.

A person using a tool to check the tread depth of their car tyre
14. Going on your first long journey

When you’re used to hour-long driving lessons, the idea of heading out in the car for a long stretch of time might seem daunting. As a novice driver, a long-distance journey can be a real challenge but a little planning can help you to ensure the trip goes smoothly.

Before heading off, carry out checks on your vehicle to minimise the risk of breaking down en route. Plan your route carefully, including rest stops and toilet stops and allow plenty of time so you do not feel rushed. Bring food and water, as being hungry or thirsty can make it harder for you to concentrate on the road. Watch out for signs of tiredness. If fatigue sets in, open a window for fresh air and take the first opportunity to pull over.

15. Understand how Brexit affects driving in the EU

Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the rules about driving in Europe have changed. You now need a green card proving that you have appropriate car insurance, as well as your driving licence and a GB sticker on your number plate. Make sure you leave plenty of time before your trip to obtain a green card from your young driver insurance provider.

If you’re taking a trip for a duration of less than one year, you will need your car V5C logbook, or if you are going in a hired or leased car you will need a VE103 form to prove you are authorised to take the vehicle out of the UK.

16. Stock up on motoring essentials

Once you have a car, there are certain tools and equipment that can prove extremely useful in an emergency. This might include an empty fuel can, a spare tyre and jack, your car manual and a basic toolkit.

You might want to keep an emergency breakdown kit in your car with high vis clothing, a red triangle, drinking water, warm clothes and some non-perishable snacks. It’s also wise to keep tools for cold weather, such as de-icer and a scraping tool.

Once you have a car, there are certain tools and equipment that can prove extremely useful in an emergency.

An emergency triangle set-up in-front of a car with a man in a high-vis vest changing the wheel
17. Perfect presents for the new driver

A car is like an extension of your home – it should be somewhere familiar and comfortable. Whether you treat yourself or add them to your next birthday list, there are certain items that might enhance your driving experience.

For example, you might want some cosy gloves with added grip for driving on freezing days. A USB charger will help keep electronic devices charged, while a packet of tissues, some mints and a blanket can add to your comfort. Air fresheners are also useful, just make sure they don’t block your line of vision.

18. Consider black box insurance

The cost of first time driver insurance can be steep. Black box or telematics insurance is a good option to consider if you want to bring down the cost of your insurance premiums in the first few years of driving.

Telematics insurance uses a black box device to record certain elements of the way you drive, such as how often you brake or accelerate rapidly, take corners sharply or drive late at night. The device is plugged into your car and data is fed back to your insurer and to an app on your smartphone. You can track your performance, get tips on how to improve your driving and when it comes to renewing your policy, your insurer may reduce your premiums based on your proven record. Why not contact Smartdriveclub for a first time driver insurance quote today?