Getting on the road: Now you've passed your test

Successfully passing your test is only the start of your driving career.

Published on June 19, 2023

Note: This article was written as part of a commercial content partnership between and ISM.

You passed your driving test. Congratulations! It has been a long, occasionally hard, road to get here, but well done. You're now ready to join the ranks of fully qualified drivers. You'll have received your certificate of competency, which you can bring to the nearest National Drivers Licence Service (NDLS) office to exchange for your full licence.

You can apply for your full licence online (via your MyGovID) or in person, and it should arrive in the post in a couple of weeks. Once it comes, the L-plates can come off and you're free to go.

Well, almost. Since 2014, although you can rip up your L-plates, you will have to immediately put a new set of plates on your car - N-plates. These stand for Novice, and they'll have to remain on your car for two years after you've passed your test.

Why? Well, sadly it's because this is probably the most dangerous point of your entire driving life. Up until now, you've only been allowed out on the road when in the company of a responsible, fully-licenced driver, but now you can head out on your own, flying solo (although it's worth remembering that you can't go out on your own right away - you have to wait until you're in physical possession of your full licence).

It's at this point that the Road Safety Authority (RSA) reckons that you're twice as likely to be killed in an accident than at any other time. Sorry to bring the mood down, but it's true, and it's why the novice plate was introduced. It's, if nothing else, a reminder that you're still very much learning. After all, experts say that you need to rack up 100,000km before you can be considered a truly experienced driver.

The N-plates also mean that you have to respect slightly altered rules of the road. You can't be a sponsor for another learner driver until they're off, and nor can you act as the full licenced accompanist for a learner. You also have to stick to the same lower blood-alcohol limits as you did when you were officially a learner (20mg instead of 50mg) and your penalty points threshold remains lower - rack up seven points, rather than 12, and you'll be getting a driving ban.

That might all sound a bit draconian, but there is sad and bountiful evidence to back it all up. According to the Road Safety office of the European Union "In every crash and fatality statistic, 16-24-year-old drivers are greatly over-represented, with risks a factor two to three times higher than those of more experienced drivers. They pose a greater risk to themselves, their passengers and to other road users than other drivers do. In young driver crashes, for each young driver killed, about 1.3 others also die (e.g. passengers and other road users). Young driver crashes differ from those of more experienced drivers, in that more young drivers crashes happen at night, are often single vehicle crashes (with no other vehicles involved), frequently as a result of 'loss of control' and high speeds. Even alcohol consumption in low quantities has a greater impact on youngsters than on experienced drivers."

So that's why you need to be careful, and consider this two-year period to be one of continuing your learning, rather than merely being free of the driving test. Now would be the ideal time to take an advanced driving course, to really get your skill levels up, and to instil some good habits. Really, your driving life is one of constantly learning anyway - even when you are an experienced driver, you're always learning new things - so why not get off to a good start?

You may notice that your insurance costs might actually go up when you pass your test - that's because you're now allowed out unsupervised, but regardless of experience, if you're under 25 years of age you'll be considered a 'young driver'. ISM and AXA have partnered to offer young drivers the ISM Test-Drive, which is a 30-minute assessment of driving skills, and subsequently the driver can avail of up to 20 per cent off their car insurance with AXA.

Don't forget, passing the driving test only qualifies you to drive normal passenger road cars, and vans up to 3,500kg gross weight with a maximum trailer load of 750kg - what's known as a Category B licence. If you want to, or need to, drive above those weights, you'll need to start training for your Category C or Category D licence now.

However, the good news is that once your two years as an N-plate driver are up, you simply peel off the plates and head on your way. Even if you do decide to up-skill and go for one of the other licence categories, you won't have to display N-plates ever again.

One last thing to consider is motorway driving. Up until now, as a learner, you've not been allowed to drive on motorways, so it's quite a big thing to tackle.

It's recommended that you book a two-hour "motorway driving session" with ISM. Your instructor will show you the ins and outs of entering and exiting motorways and to be comfortable with the higher speed limits of these roads.

The good news is that, statistically, motorways are the safest roads on which you can drive so although the speeds might feel a bit brisk for a while, you'll be fine as long as you remember a few key things.

First of all, keep left. The lane on the right is not a 'fast lane' it's an overtaking lane, and once you've overtaken what's in front of you, you're legally obliged to get back into the left-hand lane.

Keep a really good eye on your mirrors and over your shoulder, especially when changing lanes, and remember that traffic that seems a long way behind you at first glance can catch up with you pretty quickly.

Remember that the hard shoulder is there for safety and emergencies only, and not to drive in it under any other circumstances. If you do have to stop on the shoulder, get out of the car and get behind a crash barrier, as the shoulder can be a spectacularly dangerous spot to hang around.

Also, remember that if you miss your junction, there will be another soon at which you can turn around and head back - don't be tempted to swerve suddenly to get to a turn-off.

Other than that, well done - it's been quite the ride getting here, and now your motoring life can truly start.

Further reading

Getting on the road: an overview of the process
Getting on the road: Taking - and passing - your driver theory test
Getting on the road: How to apply for your learner permit
Getting on the road: Your essential driver training
Getting on the road: Taking the driving test
> Getting on the road: Now you've passed your test