Learners on the loose in lockdown: Surge in provisional licence holders caught on the road without insurance in 2020 as RAC links rise to driving tests being off limits

 New figures have revealed a worrying rise in the number of learners caught on the road illegally in 2020, with the RAC linking it to driving tests and lessons being off limits for several months during the year as the nation began its battle against Covid.

Some 14,618 provisional licence holders were prosecuted for driving without insurance in 2020, up from 12,583 in 2018 (a 16 per cent rise), according to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Association data obtained by the motoring group.The ages of non-licence holders caught driving while uninsured that year ranged from as young as 13 to as old as 70, with the RAC saying that every offender had put 'everyone else on the road in both physical and financial danger'.

The motoring group believes the coronavirus pandemic may have driven the increase in the number of prosecutions for motorists without full licences.

Driving lessons and tests were off limits from the end of March 2020 until July and another ban was imposed by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency for the second lockdown from November and lasting into 2021.

The DVSA continues to tackle a backlog of hundreds of thousands of learners waiting to sit their tests today, which raises concerns about the number of non-licence holders who may have chanced taking to the road without cover in 2021 and this year. Figures revealed following a Freedom of Information request to the DVLA showed that those with provisional licences accounted for 14 per cent of the 105,641 uninsured drivers recorded in 2020 – 2 per cent more than in both 2018 and 2019.

Shockingly, as many as 15,933 people (15 per cent of all those uninsured) found to be without insurance didn’t even have a licence. 

Worse still, the data reveals 23 were aged just 13 years old. This, however, is not as bad as the previous two years when there were a number of 12-year-olds caught at the wheel – six in 2018 and nine in 2019. 

Learners on the loose in lockdown: The number of provisional licence holders caught behind the wheel without insurance jumped in 2020, with the RAC linking the rise to driving tests being off limits due to Covid restrictions

The 2020 statistics also show there were 121 14-year-olds and 215 15-year-olds caught driving without licences, and therefore without insurance. 

The oldest uninsured non-licence holders were 70. There were also five 68-year-olds with provisional licences who were found not to be insured. 

The vast majority of those who didn’t have valid insurance (39,894, which is 38 per cent of all those uninsured) were full licence holders.

This, however, was 11 per cent down on 2018 when there were 44,705 drivers (41 per cent). 

The penalties for driving without insurance range from a fixed penalty of £300 and six points on a driving licence, up to an unlimited fine and disqualification from driving if a case goes to court. 

A rise in uninsured provisional licence holders may well be a symptom of the onslaught of the pandemic and the impact it had on learning to drive and people’s finances
Simon Williams, RAC Insurance 

The police also have the power to seize and potentially destroy uninsured vehicles. 

The DVLA data revealed that a further 33,015 motorists (31 per cent of all those uninsured) had expired licences – this is a 4 per cent increase on 2018. 

Some 2,182 uninsured drivers held non-GB licences – 9 per cent more than the 2,011 recorded in 2018, but still only 2 per cent of all those without insurance.

Even with traffic volumes down significantly during a year that was mostly under a cloud of lockdowns and other restrictions, there were just 6 per cent fewer uninsured drivers in 2020 than there were the year before – 105,641 compared to 112,557 in 2019. Interestingly, this was only 2 per cent lower than in 2018 (108,248). 

RAC Insurance spokesman Simon Williams said: 'The fact the number of provisional drivers caught without insurance increased in 2020 may well be a symptom of the onslaught of the pandemic and the impact it had on learning to drive and people’s finances.

'The shortage of available driving tests due to Covid is also likely to be a significant factor behind the high numbers.

'It’s also the case that younger drivers, who are more likely to have provisional licences, pay a disproportionate amount of tax when they buy car insurance which makes their already expensive policies even harder to afford.'James Armstrong, CEO at learner-driver insurance provider, Veygo added: 'It’s alarming to see a rise in the number of prosecutions of provisional license holders since the start of the pandemic. 

'Our own research found that 30 per cent of Britons are unaware that it’s possible to accrue penalty points while driving.

'Getting your provisional license for the first time is a rite of passage, but the license has to come hand in hand with learner driver insurance to protect all road users.

'Despite the pandemic delays, and the number of tests taken so far this year still being down 73 per cent on pre-pandemic levels, pass rates have actually improved by 5 per cent since 2019, as restrictions have forced learners to take their time learning to drive. 

'While this is great news, learners need to ensure that they’re practising safely and fully insured.'

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