Learning to drive in an electric car

Tristan Young

14 Oct 2021

As the UK moves steadily toward an electric car future, how soon will driving schools switch over and what does that mean for them and their learners. YesAuto has spoken to one of the UK’s leading driving schools for the answers.

In less than 10 years the only new cars you’ll be able to buy will have a plug. By 2035 all new cars sold in the UK will be full EVs.

The move to electric cars will have an impact across multiple sectors including driving schools and those learning to drive.

Ahead of these deadlines the major driving schools are already trialling electric cars to see if they’ll work from both a learner perspective and a teaching perspective.

RED, which trains more than 70,000 drivers a year, has a 1,300 instructors each covering around 130 miles a day. Providing instructors have access to overnight charging – usually on a home driveway – the daily distance is well within the majority of electric cars.

RED’s CEO Ian McIntosh believes this would make them “excellent as learner driver vehicles”.

“We’ve been testing a Renault Zoe for some time and it has proved perfectly capable in this regard.

“We are very conscious that our cars should run as cleanly as possible and contribute to improving air quality, especially because they are operating in urban environments a lot, and so the transition to electric is incredibly important for this.”

However, he doesn’t expect there to be a “big bang switch” to electric. “Instead, the switch will be phased - perhaps even on a local or metropolitan basis.”

There are several factors that slow the adoption of EVs for driving schools. Having the appropriate charging facilities, has already been mentioned, but the high cost of electric cars is also an aspect that driving schools are conscious of because if the cost of their cars rises, so must the cost of lessons.

However, McIntosh believes EV pricing will fall as they become more common.

“The other thing about our fleet is it must fit with customers’ needs,” he added. “There’s no point us training drivers in cars of type they will never drive once they have passed. So if it comes to the point where learners are all going to be moving into EVs after passing, our proposition must reflect that too, by moving to EV in the learning phase.”

Currently if you pass your test in an automatic you are only qualified to drive automatics and with all electric cars being autos this is a limiting factor. This is especially the case as typically learners don’t buy a new car when they pass their test – they tend to buy older cars. The result will be a lag between demand for learning in an automatic and the rise in new EV sales.

RED’s McIntosh pointed out: “We anticipate we’ll be running a dual ICE/EV fleet for many years, if the EV demand accelerates, then our transition to electric will match that.

“We are constantly profiling the learner driver sector to ensure they are being trained in the right cars. Auto transmissions are definitely the way forward - whether that be an ICE or an EV and this is supported by the increase number of tests taken in an auto in the UK and sales of auto vehicles.

“We currently have more auto driving instructors than any other driving school in the UK and we don’t see many students returning for re-training to pass a manual driving test in order to drive what could be a cheaper manual car. If in the future, we see a demand for this we will of course respond.”

What isn’t known yet is what will happen in future when those who have passed in an electric car but are then interested in driving what by that time would be classed as a manual classic car. If almost all cars are autos and the driving test reflects this, will the law be changed to accommodate this fact?

But for the moment, if you pass your test in an EV, you’ll not be allowed to drive a manual car.

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Tristan Young

14 Oct 2021