Chances are that, if you’re reading this, you’re either learning to drive or you’ve recently passed your driving test and are taking your first exciting steps out on the road without an instructor. Congratulations!
Wherever you are in that journey, you will have come up against those familiar, red-on-white L plates – and possibly their green-on-white counterparts, P plates, by now. So, what is the difference between these two?
Well, the main distinction is that L (‘learner’) plates are required by law for all UK learner drivers, while P (‘probationary’) plates are optional for newly qualified drivers.
L plates are vital for showing other road users that you’re still learning the ropes, while P plates are one of a series of options, along with the likes of telematics or insurance with a black box, that can help newly-qualified drivers to improve their habits behind the wheel and gain a little more confidence out on the road.
L plates: letting other road users know that you’re still learning
The humble L plate is a hugely important part of keeping everyone safe on the road, as it warns other road users that your car is being driven by a learner driver (i.e. someone who has not yet passed their driving test) – albeit with an experienced driver by their side, as the law requires until you do pass.
Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians will take extra care around cars bearing L plates. An experienced driver who finds themselves behind a car bearing an L plate will – hopefully! – exercise a little more patience if the car in front is driving slowly, braking suddenly, taking time to make left or right turns and so on.
They should also increase their distance behind the learner car, to allow the learner that little bit more time to react to situations ahead of them.
We all know that we need to make allowances for learner drivers, as they acquire all the complex skills needed to drive competently. After all, we were all learners once!
L plates must be displayed clearly on the front and back of your car, so that they can be easily seen by other drivers. In Wales, you can use a D plate (for ‘dysgwr’, meaning ‘learner’ in Welsh) if you prefer.
Whether it’s an L or a D plate that you’re sporting, however, it must have the same design – a red L or D on a white background – and it must be the right size. Failing to display an L plate, or using one that’s not the right size, can land you up to six penalty points on your licence.
When the car is not being used by a learner, the L plates should be removed.
L plates and insurance
Do learner drivers need insurance? Yes indeed, and there are a few different options open to you.
If you’re learning in your own car, you’ll need to get your own insurance for the vehicle. Remember, though, that insurance for new drivers is expensive, so you may want to follow one of the other options below.
If you are learning in a car belonging to a friend or relative, you’re eligible for Learner Driver Insurance. This covers you while you are driving their car – and their own No Claims Bonus won’t be affected if you damage the car and need to make a claim. You may find black box insurance useful here – read on for more details of how this technology works.
Or, you can be added to a parent’s policy as an additional driver. In this case, though, if you need to make a claim their No Claims Bonus won’t be protected.
Taking driving lessons through a driving school, and learning in their car? No need to worry about insurance in this case – your instructor is responsible for both the car and student insurance.
If you take the driving test in your own car, you will need to display your L plates and have the appropriate insurance in place.
Where to put L plates
So, where on your car should L plates be displayed? In a nutshell, there should be one at the front and one at the back of the car, where they are visible to other road users.
You should place one L plate in a highly visible position at the rear of the vehicle – around the same height as your brake lights – and one similarly visible at the front, for example mounted on the bonnet.
It’s not a good idea to display L plates on the front or rear windscreen, as they’ll impede your vision; on any low bumpers, as they may be harder for other road users to see; or on the front grille, as they could reduce air-flow into the engine, or even get blown off and into the engine compartment.
What happens if I don’t display L plates?
If a learner driver is caught failing to display L plates (or even failing to display them visibly), a number of possible fines and licence penalty points could await.
You could get off with a word of warning – at the other end of the scale, you could face a fine and up to six penalty points on your driving licence (more about licences and penalty points here).
Typically, though, driving without L plates is deemed to fall under the offence of ‘driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence’ (code LC20), bringing with it a £100 fine and three penalty points.
P plates: I’ve passed, but I’m still learning
That’s the story with L plates, then – and we hope you won’t need them for too long. What about those green P plates you may have noticed on the road?
Putting green P plates on your car shows other road users that you’ve recently passed your driving test. Unlike L plates, though, P plates are not compulsory: you can choose whether or not to display them, and for how long. The theory here is that you remove them when you feel fully confident on the road, and don’t need other road users to make allowances for you as a new driver.
So, P plates are optional, not compulsory. They could well be a good idea, though. You’ve passed your test, after all, and are on the road without the need for an instructor – but driving can still be a daunting experience at times.
Displaying ‘P’ plates can help build your confidence, while letting other road users know you’re just starting out – perhaps giving you that little more time and space, and making allowances for possible errors.
It’s just another one of those precautions – like telematics insurance, which monitors your driving style and can help bring down your insurance premium – that could benefit you as a young driver in the long run.
The green P plates will also help you build confidence, as you adapt to driving on your own, without feeling the full weight of expectation of a totally competent driver from the day you pass your test.
Where to put P plates on a car
P plates should sit at the front and back of your car but must not obstruct your view, as the driver, in any way.
Where to buy L and P plates
Both L and P plates are on sale at stores such as Halfords or Wilko, in supermarkets or online.
When it comes to buying plates, you have a choice between self-adhesive ‘sticky back’ L plates (which stick on well but might cause damage to your car’s paintwork when they are removed), or magnetic plates, either fully magnetic or using magnetic strips around the border (these are more flexible and better for curved surfaces).
If you are sticking the plates to a plastic area of the car (bumpers, for example) and/or your car is made of aluminium, which is not magnetic, you’ll need the self-adhesive type.
Alternatively, there are sites where you can download and print off your own L and P plates. Note that both plates have to be of exactly the right dimensions, so if you are printing off your own you need to take them from one of these recognised sites rather than just creating your own.
Whichever material you use, make sure you keep your car surface clean of dirt, dust and grease – impurities like these can reduce the plates’ adhesiveness, meaning they can fall off, leaving you in breach of the law.
Could displaying P plates help to bring down your insurance premiums?
The short answer is: no, not directly. You’re still a new driver, and insurers will still consider you high-risk for the time being. As a result, your premiums will be higher than those for more experienced drivers.
However, there are ways in which, even as a P plate driver, you could cut the cost of your car insurance through black box insurance. Read on to find out more.
After L and P plates: ways to cut the cost of car insurance
After you pass your test and discard the L plates, and whether or not you decide to display P plates during your first few months of driving, there are a few next steps that you can take that may help to lower the cost of car insurance.
This form of insurance involves attaching a small device to your car. The device records your driving style, and sends that information to your insurance provider.
If it turns out that you are driving safely and well, you could achieve a discount on your car insurance. Black box insurance is a good idea in many ways – whether or not you manage to get a discount on your insurance, you may well find that the presence of the device motivates you to drive in a safer, more competent style.
Take the Pass Plus scheme
Even though you’ve passed your test and are legally entitled to use the UK road network without anyone accompanying you, you can (assuming you haven’t had enough of driving tests by now!) choose from a couple of advanced level driving tests, designed to bring on your driving skills that little bit further, making you a safer driver and – if you’re lucky – bringing down the cost of car insurance.
Your first option is the government’s Pass Plus scheme, which is widely recognised among insurers. Taught by government-approved driving instructors, Pass Plus will typically take you six hours to complete.
It consists of six modules including driving in town; driving on smaller, rural roads; all-weather driving; motorway driving; night-time driving; and driving on dual carriageways.
Costs vary from one instructor to the next, but Pass Plus should cost around £200 or under. Some local councils (including all councils in Wales) even offer a Pass Plus discount, so check to see if you are eligible where you live. And, of course, you may able to recoup some or all of the cost of the course, in savings on your car insurance premiums.
Take the IAM RoadSmart test
Run by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the IAM RoadSmart is a much longer and more detailed course than Pass Plus.
It will take you between three and six months to complete, and will include sections on timing, control, position, observation, and driving on unpredictable roads.
The IAM RoadSmart course costs £149: you will be taught by an Institute of Motor Industry (IMI) expert in your own vehicle. You’ll be taken through various during exercises, honing a variety of skills behind the wheel, and at the end of the course you will take the advanced driving test.
You’ll then be a full member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). Benefits here can include discounts on a new car or bike and, you guessed it, potential discounts on your annual car insurance.
Black box insurance from Smartdriverclub
Whether you’re still sporting L plates or have just passed your test, we wish you a safe and enjoyable lifetime on the road.
Have you considered black box insurance? By recording your driving style, this form of insurance can help your driving habits to improve – and can bring down your annual insurance bills. Contact us today to find out more.