The Department for Transport is considering the move as a way to make sure learners are properly prepared for everyday driving before they pass their tests. Under the plans, they would be allowed to gain experience on motorways under the supervision of an approved driving instructor.
At the moment, learner drivers are not allowed to go on motorways but can do so without having had any practical experience after passing their test.
The possibility of learners on motorways will be explored under a £2m project examining driver education. It will look at whether the current regime gives the best training for learner and novice drivers. Compulsory basic training for learner motorcyclists will also be reviewed.
As part of a package of reforms known as the road safety plan, transport ministers are also planning a £50m grant for better cycling training in schools, and looking at forcing lorries to keep their sideguards to better protect cyclists.
There will also be increased punishments for drivers who use hand-held mobile devices while driving, with an increase from three penalty points to four and the fine rising from £100 to £150. In 2014, mobile phone usage was a contributing factor in 21 fatal road accidents and 84 serious accidents. The penalty for using a mobile while driving larger vehicles such as HGVs will go up from three to six points.
Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, said he was putting forward “common sense proposals that balance tougher penalties for dangerous drivers with practical steps to help youngsters and other more vulnerable groups stay safe on our roads”.
The move to let learner drivers have supervised practice on motorways was welcomed by Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation. “One in five young drivers has an accident within six months of passing their test so putting the learning process under the spotlight has to be a good thing,” he said.
“Mile for mile, motorways are our safest roads but can be intimidating places for novice drivers. Exploring ways of letting learners have controlled access to them is welcome. The important thing is the official seal of approval provided by the approved driving instructor who will accompany them down the slip road. This is definitely not the time to have mum or dad in the passenger seat.”
The government is currently considering a number of reforms to driving tests in order to improve the UK’s road safety record. It is already thinking about giving those who pass their driving test first time a refund of part of the cost. The plan is intended to raise the low first-time pass rate, which stands at just 21%.
At one point, the government was also considering banning newly qualified drivers from carrying non-family members under proposals to cut the number of road accidents involving teenagers.