Choosing the right driving instructor

Learning to drive is expensive and can be time-consuming, so finding the right driving instructor is vital. Should you pay for lessons? Or would it be better to get friends or relatives to teach you? If you’re going with a professional, how do you choose the right one? Here’s what you need to know.

Learning to drive is expensive and can be time-consuming, so finding the right driving instructor is vital. Should you pay for lessons? Or would it be better to get friends or relatives to teach you? If you’re going with a professional, how do you choose the right one? Here’s what you need to know.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
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Posted 6 NOVEMBER 2019 Last Updated 11 MARCH 2022

How to choose your driving instructor

You’ve got your provisional licence and you’re ready to start learning. But who’s going to teach you?

The first thing you need to decide is if you want to ask a friend or relative to teach you, or if you’d prefer to get professional help. Of course, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Many learner drivers choose to get lessons from a trained instructor and supplement their lessons with regular practice sessions with their (hopefully patient) loved ones.

Who can teach me to drive?

Anyone over the age of 21 who has held a full driving licence for a minimum of three years, from the UK and countries within the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA), can teach you to drive. Although some insurance policies will require them to be aged over 25. If they’re teaching you to drive a manual car, they need to be qualified to drive one themselves.

Only an approved driving instructor (ADI) or potential driving instructor (PDI) can charge you for teaching.

What are the benefits of paying a professional instructor to teach you to drive?

An instructor will have been trained and is qualified to teach you to drive. Not only do they know the rules of the road like the back of their hand, but they’ve also been trained in planning and delivering lessons. They have experience managing the expectations and emotional responses of learner drivers. And they don’t have the personal history with you that could cause them to behave unhelpfully if stress levels start to rise.

Professional driving instructors know exactly what’s covered in the test and what will pass or fail. They can point out any bad driving habits you’re forming before they become an issue. They also have local knowledge about test routes so they can make sure you have all the skills you need to pass.

They’ll also have the necessary insurance to cover you while you learn, and the car will be ready for you to drive in, with L plates and other branding. In most cases, their car will also have dual controls so the instructor can take control if there’s a safety issue.

What are the benefits of letting a friend or relative teach you to drive?

The main benefit is the fact that it’s free. If you decide have lessons with a friend or family member, you’ll need to make sure their car is fit to be on the road as well as taxed and insured for you to drive. Make sure you have L plates clearly displayed on the front and back of the vehicle.

Choose your friend or relative carefully though – there’s nothing helpful about practising your driving skills with someone who has bad habits that won’t help you pass your test.

How should I choose a professional driving instructor?

To help you find the right instructor, we’ve put together our 10 top tips.

  1. Ask friends and relatives for recommendations. But don’t just take one person’s word for it. Use any recommendations as a starting point for further investigation.
  2. Research instructors in your area and look at reviews. Check the reviews on independent, unbiased sites and local forums.
  3. Check the instructor’s qualifications. Anyone charging you for driving instruction must be approved as a potential driving instructor (PDI) or approved driving instructor (ADI) by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). You can check if the driving instructor is registered on the DVSA website.
  4. Double-check the instructor’s qualifications. Ask to see ID, then check their vehicle for proof of qualification. Registered driving instructors will display a badge in the windscreen of their car – a green hexagonal badge shows that they’re a fully qualified driving instructor and a pink triangular badge is for instructors who are currently in training.
  5. Ask them about their approach. You’re paying for a professional service, so your instructor should have clear lesson plans in mind.
  6. Ask for their advice. What do they think is the ideal driving lesson length? How often should you have lessons? How long do they think it will take before you can take the test?
  7. Assess their character. Are they friendly and polite? Do they seem patient and helpful? Did they show up on time? Does their car look clean?
  8. Make sure the relationship works. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your driving instructor in sometimes stressful situations. So ideally your instructor will be someone you get along well with.
  9. Ask about discounts. Some instructors will offer a discount if you pay for blocks of lessons in advance, but have at least one lesson and make sure it’s a good fit before making any big financial commitments.
  10. Discuss the practicalities. Where will they pick you up? Are they flexible on lesson times? What if you need to cancel or postpone?

Driving lessons are expensive, so it’s important you feel you’re getting a good service. Even if you’ve had a few lessons with one instructor and you don’t feel it’s going well or it’s not a good fit, you can always cut your losses and switch.

How often should I take driving lessons?

Once or twice a week is standard, but you may instead opt for bouts of more intensive learning, or you may choose to take it more slowly and leave time for private practice in between.

Ask your instructor for advice. They’ll be able to advise on the approach they think works the best. At the end of day, it depends on what makes sense for you, your schedule and your budget.

How much do driving lessons cost?

Driving lesson prices can vary depending on the experience levels of your instructor and where you are in the country. You can typically expect to pay £25-30 for a one-hour lesson, and you may need a substantial number of lessons before you’re test-ready.

This is on top of other costs, such as the cost to take your theory and practical driving test, which you’ll have to factor into your budget.

Is a driving school or instructor’s pass rate important?

The driving school or instructor’s pass rate isn’t always everything. You'll need to be aware of the context surrounding any figures you’re given.

An instructor could have a 100% pass rate, but if they’ve only had one student, it’s meaningless. Similarly, if a driving school takes all its passes into consideration, it’s likely they’ll all have pretty good pass rates. A better question to ask might be, ‘How many people passed first, second or third time?

The most important thing about your instructor and driving school is that they give you the support you need in order to learn to drive. Remember that it’s you who’s paying them, so you need to be comfortable with your progress and the teaching.

When will I be ready to take my test?

Around 40-50 hours is commonly quoted as the average time needed to pass your test, but in reality, everyone learns at their own rate.

Your driving instructor is best-placed to advise on your progress and when you’re ready to book your test. In general, the more hours you can put in the better, so take any opportunities you can to get out onto the road with friends or relatives, in addition to your lessons, to make sure you have the highest chance of passing your test without a hitch. Statistics show that only around half of prospective drivers in the UK actually manage to do so.

Will I need car insurance when learning to drive?

As mentioned, most professional driving instructors will already have insurance that will cover you during your lessons. If you’re learning to drive in a friend or relative’s car, or going out with them for extra tuition, you’ll need insurance for learner drivers.

If you’ve just passed your test, you’ll need your own car insurance (perhaps 'family' insurance might be a good idea?). Like a good instructor, your insurance should be about what works for you, so compare car insurance with us to make sure you find the right deal.

Frequently asked questions

Should I choose a trainee instructor?

It’s not necessarily a bad idea. A trainee instructor is not an absolute beginner – they’ve still been tested by the DVSA, and they’ve had the same criminal record check. The fact that they’re still training means you will get a lower rate, and you might find they have more enthusiasm and fresher ideas than the driving instructors who’ve been doing it for years.

Can I pay someone I know to teach me to drive?

Not if they’re not qualified as a driving instructor. It’s illegal for someone to charge you for driving lessons if they’re not registered as an approved or potential driving instructor with the DVSA. If you think someone is working as a driving instructor illegally you can report them to the DVSA.

Can a driving instructor take me on lessons at night?

Yes, you can take lessons to practise driving at night. It’s often a good idea to get used to driving in the dark in a controlled and safe setting – especially as you may find yourself driving in the dark a lot during the UK winter.

Can a driving instructor take me on the motorway?

Yes, the DVSA brought in new rules in 2018 that allow learner drivers to take driving lessons on motorways in England, Scotland and Wales – as long as they’re with an approved driving instructor and they’re in a car fitted with dual controls. It’s only voluntary though, and it’ll be up to your driving instructor to decide if you’re ready for the challenge.

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