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I’ve got a secret to share with you, I just passed my driving test at the grand old age of 27. I thought it might be useful to share what the whole process cost me in 2019.
To clarify, I did my manual car test in the UK, the amounts on this page might be incorrect if you do a different type of test.
If you know me in real life and me learning to drive comes as a surprise, please don’t be offended. I told NOBODY. Not my mum, not my best friend, not my boyfriend of 8 years who I live with, your girl knows how to keep a secret.
What do you need to get started?
The only thing you NEED need (legally) to get on the road and start taking driving lessons is a provisional licence. I’ve had a provisional (mainly to use as ID, let’s be real) since I was 17 years old. You’d think that’d sort me for taking my driving test… but no. As I’m a geriatric learner I actually had to reapply for my provisional mid-way through my lessons because they only last for ten years.
If you need a new licence: £34 online (£43 by post)
For me: £14 online (£17 by post)
In order to be able to book your actual practical driving test, you need to have passed your theory test within the past two years leading up to the date of your test. I did my theory test a year before I actually started lessons. At the time I was still driving my moped so I had a pretty good idea of the rules of the road, but I still studied up.
A friend who recently passed her test gave me her theory test book (#SecondhandSeptember) and I did all the practice tests in it. I’ve seen other people highly recommend the theory test app which is £4.99 on Google Play or the Apple Store. Whatever you do, even if you think you’re a genius who knows every road sign (WHICH YOU DON’T THERE ARE SOME REALLY WEIRD ONES) I guarantee you need to practise the hazard perception section of the test.
Everyone says it’s the easiest part of the test, which it is because you don’t need to know anything to do it. BUT if you don’t understand what will score you points, and what might make your answers void, it’s easy to fail it. I almost failed that part of my test – do at least a couple of practice tests online before you go to the test centre.
I passed first time, natch!
Finding an instructor
When looking for an instructor, it’s probably best to start from personal recommendations. If like me, you’re not a teenager who has loads of friends who are having driving lessons, that’s terrible advice, though. I went on my local Facebook group and searched “driving instructor” and lurked the comments on other people’s posts until I found a recommendation I liked the sound of. I knew I wanted a female instructor, I’ve felt patronised by middle-aged blokes thinking I’m a silly little girl before, and I didn’t fancy being in a car with that energy for hours on end at my own expense!
Good instructors probably aren’t going to be able to start lessons straight away. It’s normal to hear they can fit you in after a month or a few weeks. It’s worth putting feelers out nice and early to allow them to clear their schedules. If you’re looking for an intensive course then it could take even longer, people tend to block book ten lessons at a time, so to find a fully free week for you to learn could take months.
How much are lessons?
The hourly cost of driving lessons can vary wildly. It’ll depend on the area you’re in, whether you go with an independent instructor or a franchise like BSM, AA, RED Driving School or smaller local franchises, and any introductory or block booking discounts you might be offered.
In my area (Kent), I’d say between £24-£27 an hour is very standard. My instructor lets you book your first 10 lessons for £190 – so £19 an hour. After that, it’s £230 for a block booking of 10 lessons, £23 an hour. A single lesson would have been £26.
How many lessons will I need before I pass?
According to a stat from the DVSA, on average it takes 45 hours of lessons and 22 hours of practice to pass your test. This seems a little high to me, BUT I have four years of central London driving experience on my moped, so I’m not as petrified of the road as others.
How many driving lessons you could need may also depend on where you live. My house now is a 15-minute drive from the local test centre, but my mum’s house is a 30-minute drive from a test centre. Why this makes a difference is because usually, your instructor will deliver your lessons in the area the examiner is likely to take you out. Your driving test will probably be 40 minutes long, so you should expect to do the majority of your learning within a maximum 20-minute radius of the test centre.
In Dorset, where I grew up, it’s actually quite pointless having 1 hour-long lessons, because by the time you get to the test centre, you’d need to turn back. You wouldn’t have enough time to practise your manoeuvres or navigation in the area you’re actually expected to do it in. I can definitely see how it might take someone who lives in a rural area a bit longer than someone who’s just down the road from the test centre.
Driving instructors have told me anecdotally that 20-30 hours is quite standard for younger learners, and 30-40 hours is normal if you’re an old granny like me.
I had 29.5 hours of lessons and no practice. As I said at the top, I didn’t tell ANYONE I was learning, which means I wasn’t insured on anyone’s car.
Lesson cost: £638.50
The practical driving test
Your driving teacher will let you know when they think you’re ready to book your test. Test centres can get busy, so it was just under two months before the next free slot for me. Cancellations do come up sooner, and your instructor can book these for you. However, the first time you take your test it’s good to have a while leading up to it. I chose to have my test in the middle of the day on a weekday to avoid school run traffic, but it’s up to you!
You also will have to pay for your instructor’s time, and the use of their vehicle if they’re the one taking you to your test. I included this in my total number of lessons, but it was two hours, an hour of driving around before the test for final preparation, the test itself, and driving me home.
Cost: £62 for weekdays, £75 for evening and weekends.
You don’t need to pay any extra for your pink licence – they take away your green one and post off for it on your behalf at the test centre. It should arrive at your house within 4 weeks.
The minimum fixed costs of learning to drive add up to only £119. Legally there is no minimum number of lessons you need to take your test, you just need a provisional licence, a theory test pass certificate and to have paid the fee for the test.
If you don’t include my initial purchase of a provisional when I was 17 (it was probably cheaper in the olden days, anyway), I spent £737.50 to go from driving novice to pink licence pro.