Number of driving licences held by young people reaches record low

Neil Lancefield and Ian Jones, PA
·2-min read

Driving licence numbers among young people have fallen to the lowest level since current records began, amid the suspension of driving lessons and tests.

Just 2.97 million people in Britain aged 16-25 hold a full licence, according to analysis of Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) data by the PA news agency.

That is down from 3.32 million in March 2020, and is the smallest total in records dating back to November 2012 when there were 3.42 million.

The decline is sharper than the fall in the total number of young people in Britain over the same period.

AA president Edmund King said the drop is partly a result of driving lessons and tests in Britain being prohibited for much of the past 12 months due to coronavirus lockdowns.

“This has been a very stressful time for many learners and indeed their instructors who were unable to work,” he said.

Driving licences held by 16-25 year-olds
(PA Graphics)

Mr King claimed the disruption has been “exacerbated” by the Government’s refusal to extend the maximum two-year period between passing the theory exam and taking a practical test.

The earliest date for restarting lessons is April 12 in England and Wales, and April 26 in Scotland.

Tests may be permitted from April 22 in England and Wales, but learners in Scotland must wait until at least May 6.

There is “massive pent-up demand for both lessons and tests”, Mr King said.

He predicted that bookings will “skyrocket when instructors can teach again”.

Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said recent rises in the number of people holding provisional licences suggest “the appetite for driving” has not diminished among young people, but they are facing significant hurdles to passing the test.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this fall in the number of full licence holders aged 25 and under in a year where the Covid-19 pandemic increased financial pressures for many, meant driving lessons and driving tests had to be suspended, and resulted in more young people being locked down in their family home,” he added.

A 2019 Department for Transport survey found that the most common reasons for 17 to 20-year-olds in England not trying to get on the road was the cost of learning to drive (41%), buying a car (31%) and insuring it (30%).

Fewer than one in five (19%) respondents said they were not interested in driving, while just 12% said the availability of other forms of transport was the reason they were not learning.

People who did not renew licences that expired between February 1 2020 and the end of the year had their eligibility to drive extended by 11 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They were not included in the latest DVLA figures, but the drop in the recorded number of young licence holders is around six times larger than the overall decrease, indicating that the number on the road has fallen.