Learning Solo

I’ve just started teaching my 16-year-old son to drive. How times have changed! Twenty-five years ago you just needed to get a few professional lessons, practice with Dad a bit on the weekends and after about eight or ten goes with the driving instructor you would do the driving test and if all went well, walk out of the VicRoads office with a brand new drivers license, a set of P plates and huge grin you couldn’t wipe off with a drunken fist.

These days you must record every driving session down to the minute into a log book along with the car’s rego, date, time and odometer reading at start and end of session, supervisor’s name, address, license number, traffic and weather conditions, day/night etc. And this is a good thing. The more accountable learner drivers and their supervisors are the better drivers they will become.

In Victoria, Australia the deal is a learner driver must clock up 120 hours of driving including 10 hours of night driving before they can attempt the license test, once they are 18. Then when they pass the test they’re allowed to pick up a car load of mates and essentially go wild, within reason. And that’s part of the problem. All too often you see P-platers get themselves killed or injured because they are driving irresponsibly, usually with their mates in the car with them. There is obviously something missing here in the driver education system.

So while I had my son driving me up and down a deserted street in an industrial estate one Sunday during his first hour behind the wheel, I got thinking about an old school mate who learned to fly. Pilots must do a certain number hours flying solo before they can walk out of the flying school with that huge grin. Motorcycle learners have little choice, they must practice solo. So wouldn’t it make sense to allow learner car drivers to also clock up some solo hours? Solo driving while on your L’s would certainly make you appreciate the real hazards of driving when you are totally on your own, no one to ask for help, no one to egg you on to do silly things.

Here’s how it might work:

  • In addition to the minimum 120 hours of supervised driving and only after those 120 hours, a learner must clock up another, say 10, 20 or 40 (whatever, pick a number) hours of solo driving.
  • Permission to proceed with solo driving would need to be granted by an authorised officer who has verified the 120 logged hours of supervised driving. Perhaps a new solo learner permit should be issued, or have the current one stamped or modified in some way. The bean counters can work out the most cost-effective solution.
  • Solo driving time would be logged by a supervisor in the same way as supervised driving except the supervisor must not travel with the learner. This obviously means the learner must return to his starting point in order to have his session logged. No stopping off at the pub in between! Remember the odometer is recorded, too. In fact, minimum kilometres might be required instead of, or as well as a minimum time.
  • The solo learner driver would display a different L plate. Normally a black L on a yellow background, a solo learner might display a black L on a red background, for example.
  • Having achieved the right to practice solo driving, the L-plater is still permitted to drive while supervised, provided they display the correct L plate.
  • Of course there would be penalties for solo L drivers carrying passengers of any kind, fully licensed or not. Whether these be financial penalties or a suspension or cancellation of the learner permit is up for discussion.

Granted, there may be a high risk of possible fraud with this system, but despite that doesn’t this sound like a no-brainer?

3 thoughts on “Learning Solo

  1. Pingback: Metablog – My Love and Fear of Writing | Richard's Ramblings

  2. hihathawkins

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for directing me towards your blog. It’s an interesting scenario you’ve thought up and it definitely has some merit to it.

    I think the “recent” changes to the L/P laws have somewhat been a step in this direction, with red P drivers not allowed to take more than one passenger; only once you’ve been on your Ps for a full year do you graduate to green Ps and can take multiple passengers. This system prevents what you were saying about P platers taking a car-load of mates out immediately after finishing their test.

    Practical and fraud reasons aside, I probably wouldn’t agree with your system. I guess if young drivers can drive solo without getting their Ps, they may not bother worrying about trying to pass their test. After all, most young people want their licence not because they want to go for wild road trips but because a car is the quickest way from A to B.

    Probably the best point I can see about your system is that it gives young drivers some greater incentive to complete the 120 hours (and more importantly, it potentially provides a disincentive for parents to help their kids cheat on their hours as they fear for their children driving alone without having passed their Ps test).

    I think a certain responsiblilty lies with the supervising driver. From my experiences, my parents and driving instructors initially gave me constant instructions about how to drive. As time went by and I got more and more experience, their interruptions gradually became more infrequent. Eventually, they were almost mute; it got to the stage where I could drive beside them without even realising they were there. I think that’s pretty close to real solo driving and perhaps that’s the best transition on offer.

    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      Hey Kevin,

      Thanks for the reply.

      Firstly, I must admit the one-passenger-limit for red P-platers escaped me when I wrote that post. It does take the shine off the solo learner idea slightly.

      However, I still think the experience of driving solo as part of the learning process is of great benefit. I found when I first got my P’s, the realisation that I was driving by myself was quite daunting. Back then in the late 80’s there was no minimum hours to clock up so I estimated that I might have had maybe 20 hours practice before my P’s test.

      Having someone with you in the car provides an enormous sense of confidence even if they have no driving experience, because (maybe it’s just me) you can bounce thoughts off them, discuss driving techniques (or the weather or the weekend or whatever). Subconsciously our driving may even be influenced by how we think our passenger may expect us to drive, both in a positive or a negative way.

      By driving solo we have none of that. No one to bounce ideas off, no external influence on our driving techniques, we are completely self-reliant and I believe this is very important experience to gain before being let loose on the road for real.


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