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Learning to drive: The costs of getting behind the wheel

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Image caption It takes some time, and some expense, before young drivers can get on the motorway

For decades, learning to drive has been a rite of passage for young people. Getting a driving licence is a liberating experience, a passport to the open road. It can also help you find a job. The trouble is, getting on the road nowadays can be a very expensive process.

First, there is the cost of lessons, and plenty of them. On average, new drivers need 47 hours of tuition to be ready for their test, according to government research. At £20 per hour or more, the cost can add up.

On top of that, learner drivers need to budget for a theory exam (£25) and the test itself (£62-£75). All in all, they can expect to spend more than £1,000.

David Walkley, who runs the Chicane School of Motoring in Beckenham, Kent, says the costs mean many people now seem to be putting off learning to drive until later in life.

"People are finding it a little bit more difficult, with the cost of living going up. They're finding driving lessons are an extra expense," he says.

"They're going to university, spending £9,000 on that and then need to save for an extra few years before they come back to the driving.

"So on the whole, the mean age has gone up. I would say mid to late 20s, or early 30s, is when many people are learning to drive now."

'A challenge'

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Image caption Parents could save for years to help out with the cost of lessons, says one instructor

Richard Garbett is one of Mr Walkley's pupils. The 25-year-old chef says he can afford his own lessons easily enough, but believes others may struggle.

"I think at a younger age, not necessarily having a job or the financial backing I now have, it is a challenge," he says.

"It can be detrimental to the driving, because if you can't afford regular lessons and you have a couple of weeks in between, you'll lose skills, you'll maybe forget what happened in the previous lesson, and so end up in the long-run spending more money."

Unfortunately, there seems to be no easy way to reduce the cost of getting a licence, although some schools will offer discounts for block booking a number of lessons. Mr Walkley thinks parents can help out, if they plan ahead at an early stage.

"If parents were to put aside £5 a week from when their kids are, say 12-years-old, then by the time they're 17 they'll have about £1,300 to spend on lessons," he says.

Insurance

But even once learners have passed their test, the financial burden does not go away; far from it.

Young novice drivers face higher premiums for insurance, which can easily run into several thousands pounds. Ian Crowder, spokesman for AA Insurance, says there is a very good reason for this.

"A third of young drivers will have some sort of incident in their first year of driving, and the insurance companies are taking that into account," he says.

"The premium has nothing to do with the value of the car, it is about what you might do with it. You're driving a potentially lethal piece of kit out there."

He says there have been examples recently of teenagers having serious accidents, which have resulted in his company handling claims worth more than £4m.

Under these circumstances, he says it is best for young drivers to avoid sporty models, or the premium may well be higher than the cost of the car.

Image caption The choice of car will affect the level of insurance premiums

Mr Crowder says novice drivers should look for small, low-powered cars, which fall into the lowest insurance groups. Examples are the Vauxhall Corsa or a Citroen C1. Youngsters might dream of driving a Porsche, but they would be far better off with a small Peugeot.

There is another idea, though, which young people can use to reduce their insurance bills. They can fit a so-called "telematics box" to their car, an electronic spy which monitors a driver's every move and keeps the insurance company informed.

Obey the rules, stick to the speed limits, do not drive at night too often, and the premium could be halved. But if a driver gets too racy, the cost of insurance could just as easily be doubled.

There is no escaping the fact that most drivers under 25 who want to get on the road will find it expensive. But experts say a little planning and research should reduce these costs.

Once drivers have a couple of years of claim-free motoring under their belt, things do get a lot cheaper. So the sports car of your dreams just might become a reality eventually.

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