It’s a good idea to plan your practice routes before you get into the car for a lesson – especially when your learner is still mastering the basics.

Planning your routes carefully will allow your learner to practice specific skills and then build on them in future lessons. This will help them gain confidence and a sense of achievement and progress.

As a coach, planned practice routes will help you give instructions earlier and more clearly. You’ll also feel more comfortable when your learner is behind the wheel.

Here are some tips for planning a practice route:

Day and time matters

Consider the day of the week and the time of the lesson. This can have a big impact on the amount of traffic they’ll have to deal with.

Don’t make practice routes too long

Work out what skills you both want to work on, so you don’t try to cover too much in each session.

For beginners, practice routes should be less than thirty minutes. Anything over that is a long time for someone to concentrate, especially when they’re new to driving.

Once your learner has mastered the basics, eg they can indicate correctly and check mirrors without being prompted, you can extend practice routes up to an hour.

Plan practice routes by ability

Plan each lesson by choosing an environment (types of road, speed zone, amount of traffic) that’s appropriate for the session and matches your learner’s level of ability. Think about any particular hazards that need to be included or avoided.

Learning to drive is a progression so make sure to consider this when planning. Start with simple situations with little or no traffic and build up to difficult situations with more traffic.

Don’t compromise safety by putting your learner in a dangerous situation beyond their level of ability.

Here are some suggested practice environments:

Starting out and beginner environments

  • Off-road areas such as car parks, industrial and commercial sites, and private land.
  • Quiet, wide roads on level ground to practice skills like steering, braking, gear changing and parking without disrupting other road users.
  • Simple intersections with left and right turns.

Intermediate environments

  • All types of intersections with Give Way signs, Stop signs and traffic lights.
  • Different gradients. For example, steep roads and slopes to practice uphill first gear 'hold and control’ at intersections.
  • Roundabouts, roads for performing U-turns, three point turns and reversing.

Experienced environments

Choose routes that extend the learner’s ability to deal with:

  • Multi-laned roads
  • One-way streets
  • Railway level crossings
  • Pedestrian crossings and busy shopping areas
  • Rural roads
  • Motorways

If you can’t find the right practice environment

Not all the environments your learner needs to practice in may be available locally. For example, you may live in an area where there are no hills. In this situation, try to think of a creative solution – you may still be able practice hill starts if you can find a gradient where the car would roll back if the hill start isn’t performed correctly.

Remember although your learner may not immediately need certain skills (depending on the environment in which they live) they may need them in the future if they travel or move to a difference place.

Transfer responsibility for route planning

Once your learner is confident and at an experienced stage, start transferring responsibility for route planning to them.

To do this:

  • Start the lesson by telling them you want to go from A to B.
  • Get them to plan a route with you.
  • If you think the route they’ve chosen is suitable – given road and traffic conditions, take your learner out to drive it.

If they’re unfamiliar with the area, you may need to give some help identifying the streets along the way.

Keep a record of routes you’ve done

It’s a good idea to keep a record of what routes you and your learner have completed together. Repeating routes too many times can bore learners and might annoy local residents.