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1.3 million new drivers predicted to hit UK roads this year

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Britain could see 1.3 million new drivers on its roads this year due to a backlog of tests caused by the pandemic.

Research by Direct Line Motor Insurance found that the first 12 months of the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021) saw fewer than 500,000 tests conducted due to lockdowns. This is more than a million fewer tests than in the previous 12 months.

Direct Line is predicting the coming year could see a boom in new drivers, as test centres see an influx of learners from the past two years eager to take their tests.

With an average of 1.6 million tests being taken every year, combined with an estimated 1.2 million tests that had been delayed from 2020/21, the figures suggest that as many as 2.8 million driving tests could be taken this year.

With some 750,000 learner drivers passing their tests every year, combined with an estimated 520,000 motorists who would have passed their tests in 2020/21 had they been able to, this could result in almost 1.3 million people passing their tests this coming year.

The data also shows that 2020/21 saw the highest pass rate in five years, standing at 49.8%, meaning this year is likely to see 68% more drivers take to the roads than before the pandemic.

While significantly fewer people were able to take their test, the pandemic pass rate was 49.8%, 3.4% higher than the five-year average (46.4%) and the highest rate since the data was first published.

Only 436,044 driving tests were taken in 2020/21, which was 74% lower than the five-year average. This suggests that an estimated 1.2 million learners who would ordinarily have taken their test over this time were not able to, and an estimated 550,000 fewer drivers passing their driving test as a result.

Despite the lower number of tests taken, around 3.6 million people have been learning to drive since the pandemic began, nearly three quarters (72%) of whom were aged 18­ to 34.

The majority (91%) of those learning to drive during the pandemic said the effects of the pandemic had a positive impact on their learning experience. Of these, being able to practice on quieter roads (62%) was the most positive factor, with more free time and being able to practice with a family member (both 58%), also highly valued.

One of the main differences during the pandemic has been how drivers learn. The majority (87%) of those who have a full UK licence learned with an instructor, half (49%) of whom only used an instructor. But parents have become driving instructors over the pandemic. A quarter (26%) of Brits with full licences have helped their child to learn.

This shift in the way people have been learning to drive is demonstrated by the fact that nearly three million parents (eight%) have insured their child on their car since the start of the pandemic, with a further four million (12%) intending to do so once their child starts to drive.

Lorraine Price, head of motor insurance at Direct Line, said: “It was a shame to see that learner drivers were so heavily affected by the pandemic as being able to drive is a pivotal part of a young person’s journey to independence. But it is inspiring to see that this has not deterred this generation of learners, who have had to be flexible and have adapted to this unique situation to achieve the highest pass rate in years. Overall, it’s extremely encouraging to see that the desire to get onto the road safely still remains despite the hurdle of the pandemic.”