• In the case of Nettleship v Weston [1971] 2 Q.B. 691, it was held that a learner driver owes a duty to his instructor to drive with proper skill and care. The standard of the careful driver is objective; doing your best is no defence.

Facts of the Case

  • C, an experienced driver, agreed to give D driving lessons in her husband’s car.
  • C satisfied himself that the car was insured against risk of injury to a passenger.
  • C took D out on the road on two occasions and found her to be receptive to instructions and a careful learner.
  • On the third lesson, when D was controlling the steering wheel and pedals and C was moving the gear lever and handbrake, D failed to straighten out after turning left, and began to panic.
  • Despite the car moving at walking pace and C’s attempts to straighten out, the car struck a lamp standard.
  • C sustained injuries, including a broken knee-cap. D was shortly afterwards convicted of driving without due care and attention.


  • Had D consented to the risk of injury during lessons, thereby making D not liable?
  • Did D, as a learner driver, owe a lesser duty of care compared to a qualified driver?

Held by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

  • Finding for C, that since C had checked on the insurance position, he had expressly not consented to run the risk.
  • The duty of care owed by a learner driver was the same as that owed by every driver. D was liable in damages.

Lord Denning M.R.

  • D was rightly convicted of driving without due care and attention. In criminal law, it is no defence for a driver to say, ‘I was learning under instruction, doing my best and could not help it.’ This may help to mitigate a sentence, but it does not absolve guilt. Every person driving a car must attain an objective standard measured by the standard of a skilled, experienced, and careful driver.
  • The high standard thus imposed is largely the result of the policy of the Road Traffic Acts. Parliament requires every driver to be insured against third party risks. A person injured by a car should not be left to bear the loss on his own but should be compensated out of the insurance fund.
  • Morally the learner driver is not at fault; but legally she is liable to be because she is insured, and the risk should fall on her.
  • “The driver owes a duty of care to every passenger in the car, just as he does to every pedestrian on the road: and he must attain the same standard of care towards each. If the driver were to be excused according to the knowledge of the passenger, it would result in endless confusion and injustice…The knowledge of the passenger may go to show that he was guilty of contributory negligence in ever accepting the lift – and thus reduce his damages – but it does not take away the duty of care, nor does it diminish the standard of care which the law requires of the driver” [700F].
  • Now that contributory negligence is not a complete defence, the defence of volenti non fit injuria-coming to the injury- has been severely limited. Nothing will suffice short of an agreement to waive any claim for negligence.
  • C did not agree to waive any claim for injury that might befall him. C inquired about the insurance policy to make sure that C would be covered. His claim may be reduced insofar as he was at fault-as in letting her take control too soon or in not being quick enough to correct her error.
  • A professional instructor who teaches for reward may not likewise sue. There may well be implied in the contract an agreement to waive any claim for injury. He ought to insure himself. But the instructor who is just a friend helping to teach never does insure himself. He should, therefore, be allowed to sue.