Crippling cost of losing your L plates

LEARNER drivers in Ipswich are today struggling to cope with the spiralling costs of lessons and tests.

LEARNER drivers in Ipswich are today struggling to cope with the spiralling costs of lessons and tests.

The Evening Star can reveal that practical driving tests are as much as five times more expensive than they were 20 years ago, and with ever-increasing fuel prices, instructors have also been forced to hike their prices.

The dramatic increase in theory and practical tests introduced this month by the Driving Standards Agency means learner drivers, often teenagers, are forced to scrape together the necessary cash from parents or by holding down part time jobs.

David Latter, of Collimer Close, Chelmondiston, a driving instructor with 23 years' experience, has not raised his lesson prices for years but was forced to rethink this year because of fuel increases.

The 63-year-old said: “I run a pass-plus course and that can be a 220-mile round trip, which uses about five gallons of petrol. It can be very expensive.

“When I first started teaching, people needed about 25 lessons on average but now it is more like 40 or 50 because the test is more difficult and people do not have as much of an idea of driving as they used to.”

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Keith Stirling, from Platinum Driving School, said they made a decision at the start of the year to put up lesson prices due to rising fuel costs.

Another driving instructor, Paul Gascoigne, 44, of Tasmania Road, Ipswich, agreed.

“I have had to increase lesson prices and that is to do with fuel,” he said. “The costs for learners aren't good. I suppose DSA have to cover their costs.

“You have to be a lot better driver now than you did when I started instructing in 1986. The test is unrecognisable now. It is longer and involves bay parking, parallel parking and driving on a dual carriageway.

“When I first started teaching, the lessons were £8.50 and the test was £10.30. Now most people charge around the early 20s for lessons whereas the test has gone up to £56.50.”

There has been a 16.5 per cent increase in prices for a practical test in the last year, rising from £48.50 to £56.50. The driving theory test has also increased from £28.50 to £30 - a 5.3 per cent rise.

Are you a learner driver struggling with increasing costs? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

Rachel Knight, 17, of School Hill, in Copdock, has been learning how to drive since November.

On average, she has two one-hour lessons a week, at a cost of £21 a time.

The Suffolk New College student, who is learning how to drive with David Latter, said: “I have still got to take my theory test but I haven't got the money for it yet.

“I think I would prefer to get the manoeuvres out the way first before I try for it because I want to be 100 per cent certain I could pass. The money does put a bit more pressure on.

“I am not planning to buy a car when I pass. I wanted to learn because I thought I would need a car when I go away to university.

“I got the first few lessons from my parents as a birthday present. They pay for most of my lessons but if I have the money I will pay instead. We share the cost.”

On average girls need 52 lessons to pass and at a cost of £21 each, which amounts to £1,092. The learner also needs to pay for the car the hour before the test and during the test, which comes to £42. The theory test is £30 and the practical test comes to £56.50.

In total it could cost Rachel £1,220.50 to become a qualified driver, and that is before she shells out thousands more for a car and insurance.

On average it costs men £1,069 to learn to drive, and women £1,605 as they take an average of 20 lessons more than men. It generally takes two to three attempts before passing.

Analysis from revealed that from 2006 to 2007, the total number of younger people (17 to 21-year-olds) sitting their practical driving test decreased by 32,265. Overall, the number of people across all age groups learning to drive is down by 44,090.

Younger drivers can expect to pay as much as £695 for their car insurance - 67 per cent more than the national average premium of £416.

In all, 58 per cent of learner drivers are aged between 17 and 21-years-old.