Driving lessons

Motorists demand transparency over use of trainee driving instructors

AA Driving School is committed to using only fully-qualified driving instructors

11 November 2009

Ninety-seven per cent of AA members say learner drivers should have the right to be told if their driving instructor is learning on the job, according to a new survey.

The AA is demanding government action to force driving schools to come clean when they use trainee instructors to teach young people to drive.

The call comes as an AA/Populus survey reveals serious concerns among motorists over the safety of drivers taught by trainee instructors and overwhelming rejection of the practice of driving schools charging full price for lessons with a trainee.

Up to 7000 trainees – one in eight of all driving instructors – are believed to be working for driving schools across the UK. Driving schools can place a learner with a trainee instructor and charge full lesson rates, without telling the pupil or their parents that the instructor is not fully-qualified.

The only legal requirement to disclose that an instructor is learning on the job is for the trainee to display an official pink badge in the windscreen.

However, an AA/Populus poll of over 13,000 AA members reveals that:

  • Only 6% know that a pink badge means an instructor is a trainee. Nearly three times as many (16%) wrongly believe that it means the instructor is fully-qualified
  • 97% say driving schools should be required to tell you if your instructor is a trainee
  • Nearly a third (30%) believe pupils of trainee instructors would go on to be less safe drivers than those taught by fully-qualified instructors
  • 86% say driving schools should not be allowed to charge the same for lessons with a trainee as for lessons with a fully-qualified instructor, and
  • Given a transparent choice, for lessons charged at the same rate, fewer than 0.5% say they would choose a trainee


AA President Edmund King has written to Road Safety Minister Paul Clark to raise these concerns and to call for urgent action to guarantee learners and parents an informed choice.

Fully-qualified driving instructors will display a green badge in their windscreen Edmund King says: "Seldom have motorists spoken with such a united voice on an issue. The Government identified these very problems a decade ago, yet people are still in the dark. Parents have serious concerns about entrusting young learners with trainee instructors. One in five new drivers will have an accident within a year of passing their test, so it's only natural to want the best instruction. Yet driving schools do not even have to tell you when the person teaching your son or daughter is learning on the job."

A Department for Transport report 10 years ago1 found pass rates among learners taught by trainee instructors nearly a quarter below the national pass rate. Yet it said there was little public understanding of the distinction between trainees and fully-qualified instructors and in general there was no difference in the lesson price. The report said learners needed to be better informed and encouraged to shop around.

While trainee instructors have passed exams demonstrating advanced practical and theory driving knowledge, they have yet to sit a third exam testing their ability to instruct.

Edmund King adds: "The pass rate for the final instructors' exam is just 30 per cent – so your son or daughter could be placing their trust in someone who will never be judged good enough to instruct. Yet driving schools can charge you as if they are fully-qualified, and leave it up to the learner to try and spot a pink badge few will recognise. After ten years of inaction, this is a scandal that must be addressed."

Identifying a trainee driving instructor

  • Ask, when booking, whether your lessons will be with a fully-qualified, government approved instructor
  • Beware of phrases like 'DSA-approved' – trainee instructors are approved as trainees by the DSA; and 'Qualified instructor' – trainees are partly-qualified, but have yet to sit the key exam on their ability to instruct, and
  • Look out for a green badge in the windscreen of the driving school car – this means your instructor is fully-qualified. A pink badge means they are a trainee


1 Raising the standards of approved driving instructors (No.15), based on research carried out in 1998/99, Department for Transport. This report found that the average pass rate for pupils of trainee driving instructors was 35 per cent, compared with a national pass rate at that time of 46 per cent.

The AA/Populus Survey was responded to by 13,489 AA members between 2 and 16 October 2009.

Fully-qualified driving instructors will display a green badge in their windscreen, confirming that they have passed three exams, covering:

  1. Theory and hazard perception
  2. Their own driving ability,and
  3. The ability to instruct

Fully-qualified instructors must pass regular official check tests to ensure that proper standards of driving instruction are maintained. AA Driving School, and a number of smaller local and regional driving schools, are committed to using only fully-qualified driving instructors.

Trainee instructors have passed only exams 1 and 2. Some trainees are granted a licence so they can gain experience before sitting exam 3. This allows them to instruct learner drivers and charge money, but they must work through a driving school and display a pink licence certificate on the windscreen. To be registered on a pink badge they must first have had a minimum of 40 hours of instructional training. A trainee instructor must be supervised by a fully-qualified driving instructor in 20 per cent of all lessons the trainee gives.

They normally have up to six months to pass exam 3. Some eventually fail to fully qualify and leave the industry. According to the DSA, the pass rate for exam 3 in 2008-2009 was only 30%.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


9 November 2009