The cost of learning to drive

Our research reveals the soaring costs learners are facing in getting on the road


By Marmalade Author

Updated on Jun 5th, 2023

The cost of learning to drive

Our research reveals the soaring costs learners are facing in getting on the road

The cost of living crisis has affected all of us, forcing many to evaluate where and what we spend our money on. With bills increasing and the prices of commodities inflated this has affected many people and industries and unfortunately, the cost of learning to drive for young people is no different.

To understand the extent of the issue, we surveyed over 3,256 young drivers and their parents and more than 506 driving instructors. Read on for the stats and figures and to hear from the learner drivers and driving instructors themselves about the challenges they are facing.

The aftermath of the pandemic is still very much being felt by learner drivers as our backlog calculations show the demand for driving tests still far outweighs the number of slots available. Our research from August 2022 revealed the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has a capacity to conduct 130,622 tests per month. Unfortunately in October of 2022 alone we estimate there will be 423,421 tests needed, leaving young drivers with a wait of up to three months to take a driving test due to this backlog that was caused by the lockdowns. This is leaving young people with a multitude of dilemmas on what to do next as they deal with rising costs and unfortunately our backlog predictions show it won’t be until January 2024 when the demand for driving tests will fall below the availability of tests.

The hourly rate for driving lessons is increasing

Learning to drive for most people is not easy and it can take a lot of lessons with a driving instructor to feel comfortable behind the wheel. Unfortunately the average total spend on driving lessons is increasing. Our research (conducted August 2021) has revealed that the average total spend on lessons is now £841, an increase of almost £100 from the 2020 average which we calculated to be £747. The parental contribution has also increased by 9% likely to cover the increased cost of lessons. 

When we dig further into the data, it reveals the average hourly lesson rate has been consistently increasing every year by around a couple of pounds - with the average hourly lesson rate currently sitting at £35 per hour. This increase may not sound like much but after multiple lessons the extra pounds do add up. In 2020 the average hourly lesson rate was £28.47 - after ten lessons that’s £65 more that young drivers are paying. Worryingly though, 30% of instructors predict that their hourly rate may be £40 or more by the end of 2022, currently 18% charge this. The highest reported rate was £57 per hour and on a Saturday morning a staggering £75 per hour!

The impact of the fuel price chaos

But driving instructors are not increasing their fees for the sake of it. With fuel prices rising, driving instructors have seen an average increase of £44 a week to fill up their tanks - leaving them with no choice but to increase their rate. Our research found that 87% of instructors have had to increase their hourly lesson rate for students since the start of the year by at least £10 and 38% say they will be forced to increase their prices again before the end of the year. Only around a quarter (26%) of instructors are sure that they will not be increasing their hourly rate by the end of 2022.

The rising petrol costs are increasing so drastically that 63% of driving instructors are concerned that income from lessons won't be enough to cover their costs. Sadly, almost 30% of instructors have considered leaving the profession because of rising fuel costs. The rise in fuel costs have also caused a whopping 72% of young drivers to reduce the amount of time they spend practising on the road.

Cost of cars are increasing

Not only are the price of lessons increasing but the average cost of a first car is too. Gone are the days when you used to be able to pick up a second hand car for less than £1,000. The average price today is now £4,297 - a 20% increase from 2020.

The figures also show that parents are contributing 7% less to the payment of their child’s first car compared to 2020. Whether this is due to the price of cars increasing and parents not being able to afford it remains to be seen.

But it shows again how young drivers are facing many hurdles when it comes to getting on the road. The overall effect of the increase in cost of living is that almost half (46%) of young drivers are now driving less.

When looking at specific locations in the UK we found that parents in London contribute on average just a third of the cost of their child’s first car (32%) compared to parents in Wales who on average pay for nearly half the cost (48%). Young London based drivers’ first year of insurance is also more than £200 above the national average (£1,318).

Delays due to the current backlog continue to impact cost

It is becoming more apparent that the rising costs of learning to drive is causing significant delays in all aspects for young people learning to drive. Over a quarter (26%) of young drivers delayed taking their driving test due to the rising costs and 20% of young drivers are taking a break from learning, with 26% delaying booking their driving test entirely.

With the latest DVSA statistics revealing there are over half a million learners waiting to take a test, young drivers are faced with the decision of whether it is worth continuing with their lessons to stay up to speed or take a break to save some money and come back to lessons closer to the time of their test - with the dilemma being if they fail the test, they are back to the start of the queue.

What does all of this mean for young drivers?

With the costs of learning to drive for young people rising across the board and instructors dealing with rising fuel costs, sadly we are seeing young drivers being negatively affected and engaging less with learning to drive. This was shown in our research, which revealed 45% of instructors have noticed learner drivers booking fewer lessons due to the rising costs of living and even more worryingly, 33% of instructors have noticed learner drivers stop lessons entirely.

Young people are now using their own initiative and turning to the internet to use video games to get the guidance they need to learn how to drive. Nearly a quarter (24%) of young drivers who came up with new ways to save money when learning to drive mentioned using Youtube, apps or even games. With one learner driver telling us:

“I use driving simulation games and watch driving lesson videos on tiktok.”

This was a common theme throughout, as one other driver surveyed said:

“I have started to watch YouTube videos to speed up my learning, so that I can hopefully become test-ready sooner.”

One other effect of the rise in costs is that young drivers are trying to pass their driving test taking fewer lessons - 62% of driving instructors reported noticing this, which is likely to negatively affect their result if they are not fully prepared to take the test.

Could a switch to electric cars be the answer?

With the UK aiming to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, electric vehicles are going to become more common on our roads. But it seems learning to drive in electric cars is not high on the priority list for a number of reasons. Instructors say there is not a demand for learning to drive in electric cars as 62% state that student enquiries are for manual vehicles only. At this point in time only 1% of driving instructors teach in electric vehicles and it seems this figure is not likely to radically change as 83% of instructors say they do not plan to switch to an electric vehicle within the next 12 months. One of the main reasons for this is the price, as 65% said they would not make the switch because of how expensive electric cars are.

However, due to the increasing cost of fuel almost half (46%) of young drivers aged between 17-19 years old and 48% of 20-29 year olds have said they are more likely to consider switching to an electric vehicle in the future.

But what we are seeing from our previous research from 2019/20 is an increase in the amount of young drivers choosing to learn automatic instead of manual. With our figures estimating that automatic cars could surpass manuals as the preferred choice for learner drivers by 2038 in the UK and even sooner for London by 2030.

Our research shows the plethora of obstacles young drivers are facing when it comes to learning to drive. The fuel prices increasing have caused instructors to increase their hourly rate making it even more expensive for learners to have consistent lessons. The cost of cars are increasing too, so young drivers who want to buy their own vehicle to practise with a parent to save on the cost of lessons are unfortunately unable too. The backlog is still yet to be cleared and doesn’t look like it will, until 2024.

Young drivers face a difficult decision in whether they continue to learn or take a break and start again closer to a time when they know they can go in for a test. All of these factors could be contributing to young drivers engaging less overall with learning to drive and some giving up entirely which can have a knock-on effect when it comes to gaining freedom and exploring new opportunities.

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