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Supervising a Learner – could you be liable?

By November 24, 2016May 15th, 2022Uncategorized

In this article I’m mainly discussing Criminal Offences not Civil law so I’m not going into Tort/Negligence claims.

(I’m also not going to cover the obvious, you need to be over 21 and have held a license for 3 years, the drink drive limit, the eyesight requirements, and the restrictions on mobile phone use all apply to you)

Contrary to beliefs held by some, the supervising driver or ADI is not immune from offences committed by a learner driver, or alternatively some people seem to think that the learner driver is completely immune from offences and even suggested they as the ADI should accept the ticket instead!


There are a couple of things to consider.

Standard of Driving – The learner is liable as the driver.

Surely the law cut’s learners some slack – After all they’re only learning.

You’d think so but actually not – The case is McCrone V Riding (1938). The learner had been acquitted of careless driving after the magistrates held that he was ‘exercising all the skill and attention to be expected from a person with his short experience’. It was appealed to Crown Court and the judgement still stands today and forms the basis of all Road Traffic law. The basic standard expected of a new driver was the same as that expected of any driver with the same duty as provided in the Act.  ‘There is only one acceptable minimum standard of driving and all drivers including learners must observe it. If not, they commit the offence of careless driving’.

Cases crop up in the press from time to time, such as this one from Nottinghamshire.

Joseph Bell, 18, was having a driving lesson when he stopped over the line at a junction on the Colwick Loop Road in Nottingham on 14 December last year. He admitted failing to comply with the red light, but Nottingham magistrates accepted special circumstances. Insp Simon Allen, from Nottinghamshire Police, defended the force’s actions over the case, saying there is “no mitigation for learner drivers when committing a traffic offence” and it was the job of officers “to uphold the law, The safety of all road users is paramount, which is why the law holds learner drivers equally accountable and they must ensure that they follow the rules of the road,” he said. In these cases, drivers have the choice to take a ticket or to go to court as happened here.

(The learner would probably have saved money by accepting a £100 fine and attending an awareness course rather than paying for representation in court)

Or this older case from 2014   – Teenager, 17, given speeding ticket while on driving lesson – for going 36mph in 30mph zone.

  • She was traveling in a dual-controlled AA vehicle at the time of the incident
  • The student says she was stunned to be solely responsible for the speeding

A spokesman for the AA confirmed they have offered to pay for Ms Ralphes’ driver awareness course as a ‘gesture of goodwill’. He added: ‘We are sorry that this incident has happened while Stacie was under our instruction and appreciate that this has caused distress for her and her family. ‘However, the law is clear that if a motoring offence is committed then the driver is liable for any penalty, such as points on their licence or attending an awareness course, even if they are a learner. It is illegal for anyone other than the driver to take the penalty,’ he said

You cannot name yourself as driver if you weren’t the driver.

This is quite a serious offence known as perverting the course of justice, and could come to light years later as in the first case below:

The most well-known cases coincidently involve Politicians .  Chris Huhne and his former wife Vicky Price were each jailed for eight months back in 2013. The offence didn’t come to light until 7 years later.

The saga began on 12 March 2003 when Huhne, then an MEP, was clocked speeding on his way home to south London from Stansted airport. To save him from a driving ban owing to an accumulation of points on his licence, Pryce said she had been driving, her trial heard

The second cases one involved Fiona Onasany from 2018 – “In July 2018, Onasanya was charged with perverting the course of justice in relation to two speeding incidents which occurred in 2017.[34] The first charge alleged that she was driving the vehicle during a speeding incident on 24 July 2017 but that, with her brother Festus Onasanya, she had claimed that someone else was driving. The second charge concerned a speeding incident on 23 August 2017 when Festus is alleged to have been the one driving.[1] Her brother was charged with three counts, two relating to the same incidents as his sister.[35][36] She appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 12 July 2018” which also ended in a prison sentence.


A person supervising a learner driver is required, not to provide tuition for the learner, but to ‘supervise’. That means doing whatever is expected to prevent the learner driver from acting carelessly or endangering others.
The most common stated case for this Rubie V Faulkner (1940), where the supervisor was convicted of aiding and abetting a driver in the commission of driving without due care and attention.

In this case the driver pulled out to overtake a horse and cart on a bend and hit a lorry coming in the opposite direction. The supervisor could fully see the road ahead and failed to take control in an attempt to stop the collision occurring. The court held that he could have said “do not overtake in this area” or, “keep in” when the learner driver attempted to overtake. The conviction was upheld on appeal.

Note they didn’t state that he could have grabbed the steering wheel.

The courts seem unwilling to rule on the position of the supervising driver in the vehicle or his/her ability to physically take control, probably because it’s only in cars that’s possible, and it would perhaps place a greater obligation on a supervising driver in a vehicle fitted with dual controls vs one without. (to bust another myth, there is no law that says the supervising driver must be in the front passenger seat, this has relevance when police stop a vehicle with an intoxicated front seat passenger and one in the rear isn’t, and neither motorcycle instructors nor PSV instructors are in a front passenger seat, but they are still legally supervising),

In Lovelace v Fossum (1972), a driving instructor in, slippery weather conditions gave the instruction to slow down before a bend – this was followed. The instructor repeated the instruction to slow down when they were about ninety feet from the bend, but the driver didn’t hear and lost control of the vehicle which skidded off the road.

The court found them both equally to blame as the ADI failed to manage the situation safely and the learner driver failed to use the best skill, he possessed to obey the instructor. However, this was a liability case and not a criminal case.

R v Lyons (1982) A learner driver having his last lesson before his test, was told to make an emergency stop.

He did so without looking behind, was struck by a by a motorcycle from the rear and was convicted of driving without due care and attention

He appealed and the appeal was rejected – the court stated that the degree of care expected of Lyons was that which a reasonable & prudent driver would exercise in the same circumstances. Regardless of directions from his instructor he should have made certain that it was safe to execute the manoeuvre.

Now first of all each case is tested on its merits. It’s only possible to give general guidance on what the law says and refer to cases that have already been decided in higher courts and so are ‘binding’ on lower courts like the Magistrates.

(It’s entirely possible that with enough time and money, and a good enough argument on your own circumstances you could appeal a case all the way to the Supreme Court and they might decide in your favour and overturn the earlier rulings, This is exactly what happened with the mobile phone offence, someone caught using the phone as a camera appealed to the High Court in 2019, and was acquitted resulting in the Government pledging to “close the loophole” that you had to use the phone to communicate. It wasn’t really a loophole; the courts and police had been misapplying the law for years and this wasn’t the first case that someone was acquitted on either. Way back in 2008 Jimmy Carr was acquitted after establishing he was using his iPhone as a Dictaphone to record jokes while driving (yes really), but this was in the Magistrates Court and so wasn’t binding on other courts. The 2019 case was the first case to be escalated and then binding on lower courts. *)

It is worth knowing that has been classed as “driving” or not driving is an article in itself, it doesn’t just mean driving along a road.

In the case of Planton V Director of Public Prosecutions (2001). A Person found sitting in the driving seat of a car with the engine running was found to be ‘driving’ – So should you leave a Provisional License holder in the car with the engine running you could also be committing an offence under S87 (2) above.

Aid and Abet, Counsel and Procure

Anyone could be criminally liable as an accessory for any offence (not just road traffic), under this provision. (S.44 Magistrates Court Act 1980)

44 Aiders and abettors.

(1)A person who aids, abets, counsels, or procures the commission by another person of a summary offence shall be guilty of the like offence and may be tried (whether or not he is charged as a principal) either by a court having jurisdiction to try that other person or by a court having by virtue of his own offence jurisdiction to try him.

(2) Any offence consisting in aiding, abetting, counselling, or procuring the commission of an offence triable either way (other than an offence listed in Schedule 1 to this Act) shall by virtue of this subsection be triable either way.

(In Crown Courts it’s in the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861, but for traffic matters we’ll stick with the Magistrates for now)

So, what does that mean?

Aid – Giving help, support, or assistance, abet – inciting, instigating, or encouraging, counsel -advising or instructing, procuring – bringing about

Note it’s not broken down, it’s charged as ‘aid, abet, counsel, or procure’

So any supervising driver (or even passenger for that matter) could be charged with aiding and abetting offences.

The main ones are even covered by the NIP (notice of intended prosecution) offences: From the CPS Guidelines

Section 1 RTOA 1988 provides that a defendant cannot be convicted of certain road traffic offences unless he or she has been warned that the question of prosecution would be taken into consideration. Such a warning is normally known as ‘notice of intended prosecution’, or NIP.

The offences to which section 1 RTOA applies are listed in schedule 1 of that Act. They are, under the RTA:

Section 2 (dangerous driving), Section 3 (careless driving/driving without reasonable consideration), Section 22 (leaving the vehicle in a dangerous position) , Section 28 (dangerous cycling), Section 29 (careless cycling), Sections 35 and 36 (disobeying certain traffic signs and police signals)

And under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984:

Sections 16, 17(4), 88(7) and 89(1) (speeding offences) or aiding and abetting any of the above.

Yes, you’ll notice speeding offences are in that list – There’s even a license endorsement codes for it – SP34 (or SP54 on a motorway)

It was taught in Police training when I joined back in the 90’s, that you reported the accompanying driver for aid/abet speeding if you stopped a learner.

However, it must also be borne in mind that back then the enforcement guidelines were a lot different, and we usually didn’t even bother with speeding in most cases unless it was at least 10mph above the posted limit, so if you stopped a learner they’d likely already be going well over the limit and the aid/abet may have been easier to prove than just going 35 in a 30.

When I started there were no cameras in the entire force. Speeding was enforced by officers with radar guns who stopped you there and then to deal with offence, or by ‘following check’s and VASCAR. Officers would stop and conduct enquiries there and then and report the supervisor if deemed necessary.

Why is it less common now? I think it’s mainly because speeding is enforced by cameras, so a fixed penalty or speed awareness course gets offered remotely without any further investigation into the events.

A supervisor can also be convicted of aiding and abetting where the learner driver was over the prescribed limit or unfit through drink or drugs.  (The case was Crampton V Fish 1969)

Another well-known case is Bentley v Mullen (1986). In this case, after an accident, the ADI and the pupil walked away. They returned later hoping the mess would have been cleared away and that they could continue. The ADI was convicted of aiding and abetting, the court held that the duty to supervise the learner extended to supervising them meeting legislative requirements and didn’t end just because they’d stopped driving.

My old police manual for example states “In relation to the supervisor of a learner driver, the supervisor has a special relationship with the driver which places him under certain obligations. If the supervisor permitted the learner driver to drive without L plates he would be aiding and abetting the offence, notwithstanding that he did not actively assist in the removal of the L plates

The Court of Appeal recently set the criteria for convicting a supervising driver for Aid and Abet Causing Death by Dangerous Driving (R v Paul David Martin 2010) as: –

  1. The supervising driver knew that the learner driver was driving in a manner than he knew fell far below the standard of required of a competent and careful driver
  2. The supervising driver knew that he had the opportunity to stop the learner driver from driving in that manner and deliberately did not take that opportunity
  3. and by not taking that opportunity intended to assist or encourage the driving
  4. by his presence and failure to intervene encouraged the learner driver to drive dangerously.

Use, Cause, Permit

 While aid, abet etc could be charged for any offence, “Use, Cause, Permit” relates to specific offences and be charged individually.

For example s.143 of the Road Traffic Act regarding the insurance requirement states:

143 (a) a person must not use a motor vehicle on a road or other….”
“143 (b) a person must not cause or permit any other person to use a motor vehicle on a road or other public place unless there…….”


Breach of other construction and use requirements.

A person who—

(a)contravenes or fails to comply with any construction or use requirement other than one within section 41A(a) or 41B(1)(a) [F14or 41D] of this Act, or

(b)uses on a road a motor vehicle or trailer which does not comply with such a requirement, or causes or permits a motor vehicle or trailer to be so used, is guilty of an offence.

meaning use, cause, permit applies to the Construction and Use Regulations. 

These terms are generally related to Construction and Use Offences, and insurance and so on. You’ll notice that none of the driving standard offences (dangerous, careless etc have a “cause or permit” clause. You can aid, abet those offences but you cannot cause or permit them.

With a couple of points –

One – If you allow someone to drive your vehicle knowing that they do not have insurance, then if they are stopped you can be charged with use, cause, permit driving without insurance and receive a minimum of six points and a fine on conviction. Slightly less relevant to ADIs, but also used to crop up when I was serving and probably still does, is if someone (for example your child) “borrows” your car with no insurance and gets caught they would be arrested for TWOC (taken without consent). When the police come round to tell you what’s happened Mom or Dad usually straight away say that “Junior” had permission, in which case they were told if that was the case they’d be prosecuted for use, cause, permit driving without insurance as well, so they usually decided to let Junior take the fall for the TWOC and keep a clean driving record themselves.

Use, cause, permit is particularly relevant to both ADI’s and supervising drivers with regards to ‘off road use’.

In 2000 the Road Traffic Act was amended to require insurance in a ‘Public Place’. (It was also amended to require accidents in a public place be reported, as there’d be no point in requiring insurance if you didn’t have to report the accident and could just drive off)

20 years ago, you might have seen parents taking their children down to a local car park on a Sunday to practice, you might even see it now, but there’s no grey area. It’s illegal and the supervising drivers are risking points on their own license.

You might be thinking well doesn’t this apply to all these under 17 off road courses?  No because they aren’t in a public place. (The definitions and law, on what is and isn’t a public place are massive, but take my word for it)

ADI’s can have off-road insurance (other people might be able to as well, I’ve never checked), in fact my policy and many others automatically cover anyone from the age of 14 off road.

Also note – The driver doesn’t need a license off road –

The offence of driving otherwise than in accordance with a license is contained within S87 of the Road Traffic Act 1988

Drivers of motor vehicles to have driving licences.

(1)It is an offence for a person to drive on a road a motor vehicle of any class otherwise than in accordance with a licence authorising him to drive a motor vehicle of that class.

(2)It is an offence for a person to cause or permit another person to drive on a road a motor vehicle of any class otherwise than in accordance with a licence authorising that other person to drive a motor vehicle of that class.

Note it says ‘on a road’ not ‘road or other public place’ which is the standard wording used for offences that cover public places

Also note, if you fail to check the learner has a valid license when going on the road and hasn’t been disqualified then again you could be found liable for the cause or permit offence if stopped by the police.

(If a passenger genuinely believes that the driver is entitled to drive the vehicle in which they are both found that belief will prevent the passenger being charged with ‘aiding and abetting’ the offence (Bateman v Evans (1964). In the case of someone supervising a ‘learner driver’ who turns out to be disqualified, it seems reasonable to expect a supervisor to establish that the driver under his/her supervision has a current and valid licence before venturing out onto the road.)

Even off-road with no requirement for a license the driver can still be convicted t for all the usual of driving offences even though legally they do not need a license. :-

These offences are:

Causing death by dangerous driving, Dangerous driving, Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving, Careless, and inconsiderate, driving, driving without reasonable consideration etc.  as each section has the usual vehicle on a road or other public place” so again the supervising driver could be prosecuted in addition to the driver. Drink driving and related offences also apply in a public place, mobile phone usage doesn’t as the construction and use regulations state “on a road”

Some other common questions that crop up from time to time:

What happens if a learner has 6 points (or more) on a provisional license?

Nothing – But when they pass their test, if they get any points at all within the 2 years, the New Drivers Act kicks in and they must retake both tests.

What happens if a learner gets 12 points on a provisional license?

They get a short period disqualification under the ‘totting up rules’ the same a full license holder would.

What if an L plate falls off?

You need to stop – They are driving otherwise than in accordance with a license, this used to be a common amongst moped riders for some reason who loved to take the front L Plate off. (and as above you could also be charged with permitting the offence) I’ve also seen some on mopeds with just a red L with a ridiculously small white boarder around it. Again, this is the same offence, the L Plate must comply with the regulations, if it doesn’t then it’s still classed as if you aren’t displaying one.

ADIs who only use Top Boxes and don’t display L plates should ensure that the L plate on the top box meets the regulations. (Spoiler alert – in many cases they don’t, usually because the boarder is too small, but I have seen the odd few with dodgy sized “L”s as well.

Click here for the link to the size regulations.

*In case anyone wondered yes, I know that UK courts don’t use a gavel

*This happened in the Milton case, as mentioned in this article there is ‘only one standard of careful and competent driving that applies to all drivers”, Milton was as a Grade One Police driver charged with Dangerous Driving. He was acquitted at Magistrates Court, the Crown appealed, and he was convicted, he then appealed to the high court and was acquitted ” The High Court found “The question that was posed was:  Is someone’s superior driving skills a circumstance within their knowledge which should be taken into account?  The position of the Law previously was a definite ‘No’.  All the Court would look at is what the normal careful and prudent driver would think of the standard of driving.
The Court decided in this case that the fact that PC Milton was a Grade 1 advanced police driver was a circumstance that could be taken into account.  Effectively, the Court is saying is that some driving manoeuvres/conduct may be considered dangerous for a driver of ‘normal’ skill, but that it may not be the case for a driver of extreme ‘special skill’.  The Court did make a point of stating that this decision is not limited to police officers”
Another Police Officer a few years later was charged with the offence (R v Bannister), and the Milton case formed part of the case. He was convicted and appealed the verdict. The Court of Appeal ruled that taking into account the driving skills of a particular driver was inconsistent with the objective test of the competent and careful driver set out in the Act, overruling the Milton case, and bringing the law back to how it had always been. Presumably because otherwise every driving offence would start being argued on the basis of the skill of the driver and not the common standard.
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