A sweeping overhaul of driving test rules was announced today by Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, in an attempt to reduce the number of young motorists killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads.
Among the moves being considered for cutting the death toll is introducing a "minimum learning period" - possibly six or 12 months - before candidates are allowed to sit their driving test.
One option is to allow youngsters to apply for a provisional licence when they are 16 and a half years old, but to require them to wait until they are 17 or 17 and a half before they can take their test.
Learners could have to demonstrate they have experience of driving on motorways, as well as when it is dark and in rainy conditions. The tests are also expected to be toughened, possibly by doubling from ten to 20 minutes the amount of time that learners are required to drive unsupervised.
The existing probationary period during which a new driver's licence is revoked if they receive six or more penalty points could be increased from two to three years.
New drivers could also face temporary restrictions - being banned from carrying passengers or from night-time driving or facing lower blood-alcohol limits - under measures to be considered by ministers.
The proposals, which will be spelt out in greater detail in a Green Paper within the next few months, were unveiled at a summit hosted by ministers yesterday for the motor insurance industry.
Announcing the moves, Mr McLoughlin spoke of his alarm over the death rate among young drivers, who are disproportionately more likely to be in crashes than older motorists. He said one-fifth of the people killed or seriously injured on roads in 2011 were involved in a collision where at least one driver was aged under 25.
He said: "Improving the safety of our young drivers is therefore a real priority and will not only reduce casualties but should also mean a reduction in the sky-high insurance premiums they pay."
Neil Greig, the policy and research director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, welcomed a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to help new drivers survive the crucial first six months of driving".
He said: "It makes no sense that the current system abandons new drivers after the test to learn by their often-fatal mistakes, but any new approach must be based on saving lives and not reducing insurance premiums."
The AA's president Edmund King said: "It is vital we better prepare drivers before they pass their test, rather than just impose restrictions after they have passed."
He added: "The young-driver death toll can be reduced by concentrating on basics such as enforcing laws on drink and drug-driving, seatbelts and mobile phone use."