Skills you need to drive

Learning to drive opens up a new world of independence. But it also comes with responsibility. It’s important that you learn the skills you need to become a safe driver – not just to pass the driving test, but for the rest of your life.

The skills you need to learn

You need to learn 27 skills to become a safe driver and pass your driving test. They skills are split into 8 groups. 


1. Legal responsibilities
As a driver, it’s your responsibility to know how the law relates to both yourself and your vehicle, so make sure that you’re up to date with the rules and regulations.
2. Safety checks
It’s important that your car is in good working order before you start the engine. You need to be aware of what to check, how to do it and how often to do it.
3. Cockpit checks
These checks may be simple, but they’re essential. The car you’re using needs to be comfortable and ready for you to drive before you start the engine.
4. Security
This covers not only the security of your vehicle but also its contents and your personal security. You need to be aware of the ways that you can reduce the risks.

Control and positioning

5. Controls and instruments
You need to concentrate on what’s happening around you when you’re driving, so operating the vehicle’s controls should become second nature.
6. Moving away and stopping
You have to move away and stop every time you drive and that’s why it’s so important to make sure that you know how to move away and stop safely.
7. Safe positioning
Make sure that you drive in the correct position for the road on which you’re travelling. It’s important not only for your safety but also for the safety of other road users.

Observations, signalling and planning

8. Mirrors – vision and use
You must know what’s happening around you at all times and act safely on what you see.
9. Signals
You need to understand, and respond safely to, signals given by other motorists and give clear, well-timed signals to other road users so that they know what you’re planning to do.
10. Anticipation and planning
These skills are found in all areas of driving. You should always be aware of what’s going on around you while planning what you need to do in response. Planning ahead can also save you fuel, because easing off the accelerator earlier means you may not need to use the brakes as often or as heavily.
11. Use of speed
Your speed should be based on various factors, including the condition of the road, weather and traffic, and the presence of pedestrians. Always drive within the speed limit.
12. Other traffic
In most cases when you’re driving, there will be other traffic on the road. You need to be able to deal safely and confidently when meeting, crossing and overtaking other vehicles.
13. Fuel-efficient driving
Everything from the type of car and its fuel consumption to the way in which you drive influences the environment. You need to understand how to minimise the negative effects and how to contribute to keeping the air we breathe cleaner.

Junctions, roundabouts and crossings

14. Junctions
There are many different types of junction. You need to be able to negotiate any junction on any type of road safely, without holding up other traffic unnecessarily.
15. Roundabouts
To deal with roundabouts safely and confidently, you should have a thorough understanding of the rules that apply when approaching and negotiating them.
16. Pedestrian crossings
You should be aware of the basic rules that apply to all pedestrian crossings but you also need to know the differences between each type of crossing.


17. Reversing
You should be able to reverse smoothly and safely while under complete control. This includes reversing to the left and right around sweeping curves and sharp corners.
18. Turning the car around
To turn your vehicle around, it’s often easiest and safest to use a roundabout or reverse into a side street. However, if these options are not available, you may need to turn your vehicle around in the road.
19. Parking
Whether you’re parking at the side of the road or using a bay in a car park, you need to gain the skills to do this safely before you drive on your own.
20. Emergency stop
Effective scanning and reading of the road ahead will cut down the risk of having to make an emergency stop. If it’s unavoidable, brake as quickly as possible while keeping the car under full control.

Road types

21. Country roads
Country roads vary from trunk roads, carrying heavy traffic, to narrow lanes, where there’s only room for single-file traffic. Unless signs show otherwise, the national speed limit will apply but that limit is the maximum speed you may drive – it doesn’t indicate that it’s safe to drive at that speed. You must determine the safe speed using your judgement, while taking account of the visibility, signs, hazards and other traffic, as well as road and weather conditions.
22. Dual carriageways
Some dual carriageways share the same speed limit as motorways and you join some dual carriageways from a slip road, in a similar way to joining a motorway. Unlike a motorway, though, dual carriageways can have junctions and roundabouts where traffic can join, leave, cross and turn right from the carriageway.
23. Motorways
Learner drivers can have driving lessons on motorways but only with an approved driving instructor (ADI) and in a car fitted with dual controls that’s clearly displaying L plates. However, motorway driving isn’t part of the practical driving test. The Highway Code has specific rules about motorway driving, though many of the other rules apply to motorway driving too. Your ADI will be able to tell you when you’re ready to take lessons on the motorway. It’s recommended that this only takes place near to the end of your training, when you’re ready to take your driving test.

Driving conditions

24. Driving in the dark
There are many factors that make driving in the dark more hazardous. Judging speed at night can be difficult, so be particularly careful at junctions.
25. Weather conditions
You need to be aware of the effect some weather conditions, such as fog and low sun, can have on visibility. Other conditions, such as ice, snow and rain, can affect the way that your vehicle handles.
26. Passengers and loads
As a driver, you need to understand the responsibilities that you have to any passengers, whether they’re adults or children, and also how to secure any items that you’re transporting.

Following routes

27. Independent driving and using a sat nav
Independent driving is an exercise you’ll have to carry out during your driving test. You’ll have to follow directions from a sat nav or follow a series of traffic signs. This gives you the chance to experience what it will be like to drive after you’ve passed your test. You can acquire this key skill while learning, so that you’re ready to drive alone.

Making progress in each skill

You’ll move through 5 levels of progress in each of the 27 skills you need to be safe driver.

You’ll be ready to take your driving test when you’re consistently achieving level 5 (reflection) for each of the 27 skills.

The 5 levels explained

The 5 levels of progress are:

  • introduced
  • helped
  • promopted
  • independent
  • reflection

Level 1: Introduced

The subject is introduced and you’re able to follow the instructions you’re given.

Level 2: Helped

You’re improving with the skill, but still need a bit of help.

Level 3: Prompted

Sometimes you need prompting with the skill, especially if it’s a new or unusual situation.

Level 4: Independent

You’re dealing with the skill consistently, confidently and independently.

Level 5: Reflection

When you talk to your instructor, you show that you understand how things would have been different if you had done something differently. You can adapt to situations and see why perfecting the skill makes you safer and more fuel-efficient.

How long it takes to learn the skills

There’s no minimum number of lessons you must have or hours you must practise driving.

How many lessons you need will depend on how quickly you learn. 

Research shows that, on average, it takes people 45 hours of driving lessons with a driving instructor plus 22 hours of private practice to pass your test. But those who manage 100 hours of driving lessons plus practice are much safer on the road after their test.

45 hours of driving lessons with a driving instructor on average to pass

22 hours of extra private practice without your instructor on average to pass

Keeping track of your progress 

Use the driver’s record to help you and your driving instructor to keep a record of your progress while you’re learning to drive.

You and your instructor will be able to see at a glance which topics you need to improve.

You can also keep a record of any practice you have without your driving instructor. This can include any worries you have about your driving. You can then discuss these with your instructor. 

Other ways of keeping track of your progress
There are different ways of tracking your progress. Your driving instructor might use a different form or app with different levels. That’s fine, as long as you have progressed and can carry out the behaviours of level 5.

How to learn the skills

Driving instructors are road safety experts, specially trained to help you learn to drive.

It’s unlikely that anyone except a driving instructor willl have the experience, knowledge and training to teach you properly.

But family and friends can help you to practise what you’ve learnt during your lessons.

People who combine extra practice with driving lessons do better when they take their driving test. And they have fewer collisions over the next few years, too.

Driving lessons

Check the rules about who is allowed to charge money to teach you to drive, how to tell the difference between a fully-qualified driving instructor and a trainee, and find instructors near you.

Practising without your instructor

Check that the person you want to practise with is allowed to supervise you and what rules you must both follow during your practice sessions.

How to drive a car

Read quick guides about  starting your vehicle, moving off safely and smoothly, stopping, parking and reversing, accelerating and using the gears, steering and manoeuvring.

Developing your driving skills

Read quick guides about your position on the road, driving around bends, junctions, crossings, motorways and dual carriageways, signals, road signs and markings,  and identifying and responding to hazards.

Books with more details about the skills

You can read buy books written by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency which explain all of the different skills you need.

They include:

  • tips from the experts
  • recap questions to help you check what you’ve learned
  • reflection exercises to help you reach level 5
  • diagrams to help you understand manoeuvres

Official DVSA Guide to Learning to Drive

This book is packed with detailed information on the driving test and how best to prepare. It includes advice for parents and friends supervising your private practice.

Enter the code TP20 at the checkout to get 20% off the cost of the book.

Driving: the essential skills

Learn how to get the most enjoyment from your driving with the correct skills, attitude and behaviour. This book is packed full of advice that will help you stay safe on the road.

Enter the code TP20 at the checkout to get 20% off the cost of the book.

Check you’re ready to pass

You’ll usually be ready to take your driving test when:

1. You do not need prompts from your driving instructor.
You need to be dealing with every part of driving consistently, confidently and independently – without any prompting from your driving instructor. You’ll be getting ready for your test when you’re able to adapt to situations and see why perfecting your skills makes you safer and more fuel-efficient.
2. You do not make serious or dangerous mistakes when you’re driving.
You need to be a good and safe driver to pass the driving test. If you’re making serious or dangerous mistakes during your driving lessons and brushing them off as ‘silly mistakes’, you’re not ready to pass your driving test and drive on your own.
3. You can pass mock driving tests.
Taking and passing mock driving tests with your driving instructor will help you understand if you’ve reached the standard that’s needed to pass.
4. You have practised ways of managing your nerves.
It’s really important to be able to manage your nerves to be a safe driver. Practise ways of managing your nerves to help you stay calm and focused when you take your test. This will help you in the vital months after you’ve passed your test, too.
5. Your driving instructor agrees you’re ready.
If your driving instructor says you’re not ready to take your driving test, listen to them. Driving instructors are specially trained road safety experts. They’ve got lots of driving experience – and they know what it takes to pass the driving test. Remember, they want you to be a safe driver, keep your insurance costs low, and enjoy driving for years to come.

Not feeling quite ready?

You can move your driving test back if you’re not feeling quite ready yet.

It’s free to change your appointment time, as long as you do it at least 3 full working days (Mondays to Saturdays) before your test.

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