1.3 million new drivers predicted to hit Britain's roads this year

  • The first year of the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021) saw the fewest driving tests taken in 14 years – with less than a third of the annual average conducted
  • 2.6 million learner drivers are anticipated to take driving tests this year
  • The pass rate for 2020/21 was the highest it has been for over five years
  • Three million learners said the pandemic had positively impacted their learning experience
  • London had the greatest number of learner drivers unable to take their tests, with 177,000 eager learners put on hold


Britain could see 1.3 million new drivers on its roads this year due to a backlog of tests caused by the pandemic, predicts new research from Direct Line Motor Insurance1.

The first 12 months of the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021) saw the lowest number of driving tests taken since data was first published in 2007/08, with fewer than 500,000 tests conducted as the country was affected by the pandemic. This is more than a million fewer tests than in the previous 12 months and Direct Line is predicting the coming year could see a boom in new drivers, as test centres see an influx of learners from the past two years eager to take their tests.

With an average of 1.6 million tests being taken every year, combined with an estimated 1.2 million tests that had been delayed from 2020/21, suggests that as many as 2.8 million driving tests could be taken this year, which means an average of nearly 8,000 every day across the UK’s 380-plus test centres.

With some 750,000 learner drivers passing their tests every year, combined with an estimated 520,000 motorists who would have passed their tests in 2020/21 had they been able to, this could result in almost 1.3 million people passing their tests this coming year.

The data also shows that 2020/21 saw the highest pass rate in five years, standing at 49.8 per cent, meaning this year is likely to see 68 per cent more drivers take to the roads than before the pandemic. While significantly fewer people were able to take their test, the pandemic pass rate was 49.8 per cent, 3.4 per cent higher than the five-year average (46.4 per cent) and the highest rate since the data was first published, suggesting that those who did take their tests during the pandemic had benefitted from better preparation and were therefore more likely to pass.

2020/21 saw only 436,044 driving tests taken, which was 74 per cent lower than the five-year average. This suggests that an estimated 1.2 million learners who would ordinarily have taken their test over this time were not able to, and an estimated 550,000 fewer drivers passing their driving test as a result.

Table one: Number of practical driving tests taken and subsequent pass rates, 2015-2021


Number of tests conducted

Number of tests passed

Pass rate




47.0 per cent




47.1 per cent




46.3 per cent




45.8 per cent




45.9 per cent




49.8 per cent

Five-year average



46.4 per cent

Source: Direct Line Motor Insurance analysis of practical car pass rates, 2021

Despite the lower number of tests taken, around 3.6 million people have been learning to drive since the pandemic began, nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of whom were aged 18­–342. The majority (91%) of those learning to drive during the pandemic said the effects of the pandemic had a positive impact on their learning experience. Of these, being able to practice on quieter roads (62 per cent) was the most positive factor, with more free time and being able to practice with a family member (both 58 per cent), also highly valued.

One of the main differences during the pandemic has been how drivers learn. The majority (87 per cent) of those who have a full UK licence learned with an instructor, half (49 per cent) of whom only used an instructor.

But parents have become driving instructors over the pandemic. A quarter (26 per cent) of Brits with full licences have helped their child to learn. This shift in the way people have been learning to drive is demonstrated by the fact that nearly three million parents (eight per cent) have insured their child on their car since the start of the pandemic, with a further four million (12 per cent) intending to do so once their child starts to drive.

Lorraine Price, head of motor insurance at Direct Line, commented: “It was a shame to see that learner drivers were so heavily affected by the pandemic as being able to drive is a pivotal part of a young person’s journey to independence. But it is inspiring to see that this has not deterred this generation of learners, who have had to be flexible and have adapted to this unique situation to achieve the highest pass rate in years. Overall, it’s extremely encouraging to see that the desire to get onto the road safely still remains despite the hurdle of the pandemic.”

Regional findings

London saw the greatest number of learner drivers unable to take their tests, with 177,000 learners missing out. However, it was Scotland where learners were most affected by the pandemic, with 74.3 per cent fewer learners taking tests and over two thirds (67 per cent) fewer people passing.

Table two: Number of practical driving tests taken and pass rates by region, 2019/20-2020/21


Number of tests conducted, 2019/20

Number of tests conducted, 2020,21





-74.3 per cent

North East



-74.2 per cent

East of England



-74.1 per cent




-72.4 per cent

East Midlands



-72.1 per cent

South East



-71.5 per cent

North West



-70.3 per cent




-70.0 per cent




-69.3 per cent

South West



-68.3 per cent

West Midlands



-67.9 per cent




-71.3 per cent

Source: Direct Line Motor Insurance analysis of practical car pass rates, 2021

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

1        Direct Line Motor Insurance analysis of DVSA0201 Practical car pass rates by gender, month and DTC 21st June 2021

2        Research commissioned with Opinium between 14th and 17th May 2021 among 2,000 UK adults

For further information please contact:

Simon Henrick 
Direct Line Group

Tel: 01651 831 668
Email: [email protected]

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel, and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

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Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0345 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com/car-cover