Keeping you on the road
All learner drivers are obliged by law to display L plates until they have passed both their theory and practical tests. However, the probationary, or P plates for newly qualified drivers, are voluntary in the UK.
So why do we have P plates if they are not compulsory and what are the pros and cons? Is it valuable or detrimental for a new driver to display their experience on the bonnet of their car? Do they actually work and protect new drivers until they have gained enough experience and confidence. We’ve found that there are arguments both ways.
Learning to drive to pass your test, and learning to survive on busy modern roads are two entirely different things. Most of us find we are still learning how things work many years after we have torn up our L plates in triumph.
The idea behind the green P plates is to warn other drivers that you are inexperienced in a bid to encourage others to give you a little more time, room and understanding while you learn the ways of the road.
Whilst some drivers say they actually have more patience and sympathy for P plates than L plates, as there is no instructor in the car to advise a P plate driver when something goes wrong sadly many others either don’t take the same understanding attitude.
The statistics would seem to say they are. Newly qualified drivers are twice as likely to have an accident that causes injury in their first two years of driving. What’s more, while new drivers make up just 7% of road users, they are involved in 12% of accidents.
In 2010, statistics like these prompted the Magistrate’s Association to write to Philip Hammond, the then Transport Secretary, asking him to make P plates compulsory for the first year after passing your test, just as they are in parts of Australia, however this was rejected.
Part of the problem is enforcement. The Head of Road Safety for the AA explained that police would have to randomly stop drivers to see if they had recently passed their test and should be displaying a P plate. A system such as this would be costly, not just financially but timely also.
The other issue with P plates is the general public’s perceptions. Some argue that displaying them could lead to assumptions about drivers involved in accidents, after all, it’s easier to pass the blame onto a P plate driver who openly acknowledges a lack of experience than taking the blame yourself or believing a more experienced driver could be at fault.
Regardless of this, of course all newly qualified drivers will naturally vary not just in their existing ability to drive but also in the amount of experience they accumulate in their first year. This makes any mandatory timescale meaningless, for how do we compare such a subjective topic?
Since P plates remain optional, it is up to you to decide whether you display the plates, and for how long. You may appreciate the extra support you get until you feel confident on the road, or you may simply want to blend in with the rest of the traffic. Either way, just remember to take it easy for the first few months while you get used to driving. P plate or not, you still have a lot to learn.