Statistically, motorways are the safest of UK roads. One could not be judged however, for thinking otherwise – with their high speed, multiple lanes and various exits, they appear more complicated than standard A and B roads. Yet despite this, research has found motorway safety levels to be quite contrary to their aesthetic complexity – Aviva reported that accidents are actually seven times more likely to occur on rural roads than motorways – a figure that is somewhat surprising given the perceived dangers of the motorway.
The image of ‘danger’ that surrounds motorway driving could be seen to not only stem from repeated scare stories that have become a common place within our daily media consumption, but also from the demonization of such roads during our learning years. As a learner – the only driver exempt from using the motorway – the thought of using the motorway after qualifying without guidance can be intensely daunting, in fact, it is reported that one in twelve drivers will actively avoid using the motorway for at least six months after qualification. Given that it would do well for such roads to remain the safest to travel on, it seems absurd that until now, learners have been refused the opportunity to extend their experience portfolio to motorways. Until the beginning of June, it was legal for a driver to travel on the motorway having never done so before passing their test, and without guidance. It’s not hard to see how this could lead to dangerous road conditions with new drivers suddenly faced with a more complicated lane system on their own, further emphasised by the fact that these roads previously being ‘off limits’ can lead to nervous drivers behind the wheel – the thought process of ‘these roads must be difficult, because I was not previously allowed on them.’
Now however, the laws have been changed to address this. Since the 4th June 2018, learners have been permitted to use UK motorways under the guidance of an approved instructor and in a dual controlled car. Whilst these lessons are not compulsory, it is a significant step forward in bettering the experience of drivers prior to passing their test, and in our professional opinion, it can only help to make motorways safer still.
Whilst this is our opinion, it would seem that the general driving population is divided – with only 44% believing that learners should be allowed on the motorway without a full license. 42% supported the new laws, whilst the remaining 14% expressed a frustration in potentially being ‘stuck’ behind a learner who did not reach the speed limit. Although a total of 56% expressing the potential negative effects of the legislation, further research found that 70% wish the law had been changed sooner, as they would have benefited from lessons before they qualified.
Here at Barnes, we appreciate that there may be some safety concerns surrounding these new changes for those already qualified, however, as transport professionals in the midst of a skills shortage crisis, we welcome the new legislation and will be respectful of any learners that we may see on the motorway, as it is these drivers who may become the next generation of much-needed HGV operators. We strongly believe that if we can encourage young people to practice using the motorway whilst learning, the misconception that they must be too difficult to attempt will disappear, and improve safety levels on the UK’s roads will improve. And with this, it is entirely possible that such learners may come to enjoy motorway driving and pursue it as a career!
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