Young drivers: Experts say new laws needed to help cut casualties

Young drivers

One government idea is for drivers to have a minimum 20 hours of driving at night before they can take their driving test

The number of people killed on Britain’s roads increased in 2014 and young drivers are still the most dangerous category of vehicle user. It’s prompted experts to call for a review of driver training. Road safety experts say figures show one in five young drivers aged 17 to 24 crashes within six months of passing their test. And road accidents are the biggest killer of young people in the UK, higher than both alcohol and drugs. We investigate plans to reverse that trend.

Young drivers: What the problem is

According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), the risk of being in a crash peaks immediately after drivers have passed their test. It then declines gradually as they get more experienced. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) says: “Younger drivers, especially men, tend to be over-confident and are more likely to drive in risky ways such as too fast, too close to the vehicle in front and by overtaking dangerously.”

Young drivers: What needs to change?

Anyone over the age of 17 can legally get behind the wheel as soon as they have a provisional licence. They are then free to learn to drive and can take their test as soon as they feel ready. Campaigner RoadSafe says 89 per cent of young drivers pass their test with less than the recommended 40 hours of tuition time. Kevin Clinton, RoSPA head of road safety, said: “We need young drivers to gain more experience while they are learning, so encouraging them to spend extra hours behind the wheel in a variety of driving situations would have major benefits. It is known that crash rates fall when this happens.” The Department for Transport (DfT) has already put forward a series of proposals for what it calls Graduated Driver Licensing.

Young drivers: How Graduated Driver Licensing operates

The proposal is for drivers to hold a provisional licence for at least 12 months before they qualify. In order to get a full licence they should have 100 hours of supervised daytime practice and 20 hours at night. Once they’ve passed their test, drivers would have a 12-month probationary period. During this there would be a night-time curfew and a ban on the number of passengers below a certain age that they can carry.

Young drivers: Would the proposed system work?

Tests in other countries look promising. In Austria where there is a second phase licensing system for young drivers to return in the 12 months after they’ve qualified for further attitude and skill assessments. Young male driver casualties have dropped by a third. A DfT report claims if Graduated Driver Licensing was applied to 17 to 19 year olds in Britain, there would be annual savings of 4471 casualties and £224 million. It adds: “This may range from savings of 2236 casualties and £112 million to 8942 casualties and £447 million depending on the effectiveness of the system implemented.”

Young drivers: Will the changes happen?

There is to be a Government consultation paper on this in 2016. However, the IAM warns that this doesn’t necessarily mean the Graduated Driver Licensing will become law. Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists said: “The first thing the road safety lobby said to the new government was we need to do something about young driver training. But at the end of five years, this government wants to be seen as a deregulating government. If we want to change the law that could be a hard sell. With 2014 showing a four per cent increase in road deaths and young drivers still over represented we need GDL.”

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