Ensuring more young people have a bright future ahead

A key focus at the party conferences over the past few weeks has been the difficulties facing the nation’s young people, including their access to employment and their ability to turn potential into bright futures. On the fringes of the party conferences, Brake has been working with the Association of British Insurers to draw attention to a closely related issue: young people’s safety on roads.

The ABI and Brake have been together calling for a safer start for young drivers through reform to the driver training and testing system. We believe a far more structured approach to learning to drive, in the form of graduated driver licensing, is needed to tackle the shocking number of casualties that involve young, inexperienced drivers.

Young drivers are involved in a disproportionately large number of serious crashes: one in four road deaths and serious injuries is in a crash with a young driver, despite this age group making up just one in eight licence holders [1]. Young people themselves are often the victims. 18 young people aged 15-25 are killed or seriously injured each week on Britain’s roads [2], and road crashes are the single biggest killer of this age group [3]. In other words, the thing that causes more young people to lose their lives than anything else, and causes daily devastation to families and communities, is something that is preventable.

The reasons young drivers are involved is so many catastrophic crashes are clearly evidenced: it’s a combination of youth, creating a tendency among many to take risks, and  inexperience, meaning reduced hazard awareness and ability to handle these risks. This is demonstrated clearly in the ABI’s report, which shows how crash risk decreases separately with age (so the older you are when you pass your test the less likely you are to crash) and experience. We also know a lot from research about the nature of young drivers crashes, and the circumstances in which young people are most likely to crash, such as at night and with young passengers in the car [4].

Graduated driver licensing is effective because it addresses the major risk factors: it includes a year-long learning period, to ensure drivers have a good level and range of experience before they get their licence. After the driving test, there is a novice period, where drivers can drive independently but with restrictions including a late night driving curfew and passenger restrictions.  This system has worked well in other countries, and is predicted to save 200 lives and prevent thousands of injuries if introduced in the UK [5].

Graduated driver licensing offers a balance between safety and mobility, because young people can still drive independently at the end of their learner period. It can also include exceptions to the restrictions so we’re not preventing young drivers from getting to work, or carrying dependents. However, Brake also believes that, alongside introducing GDL, the government should be improving alternative options for young people, so fewer feel there is no other option than to learn to drive in their teens. This should include improving affordability and access to public transport, and putting in place safe cycling and walking routes to colleges and workplaces in rural and built-up areas.

This important point about improving sustainable travel options for young people, so their mobility and safety are improved, was welcomed by a group of Young Labour members at the ABI’s Labour Party fringe event. They rightly pointed out that young people, particularly in rural areas, are often between a rock and a hard place, with many having to go to the expense and undergo the risks of starting to drive young if they are to get to work or college. We fully agree this situation needs rectifying, alongside bringing in a more robust licensing system, if we are to ensure that more young people can go on to fulfill their potential in the future, and fewer are prevented from having a future at all.

Back Brake’s campaign for action on young driver safety
Read Julie Townsend’s speech from the ABI’s fringe events
Read the ABI’s report on young driver safety

[1] Reported road accidents involving young car drivers: Great Britain 2009, Department for Transport, 2011
[2] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain 2011, Department for Transport 2012
[3] Death registrations in England and Wales, ONS, 2010
[4] See range of research data cited in Improving the Safety of Young Drivers, ABI 2012
[5] Restricting young drivers, University of Cardiff, 2010

About stopthecarnage

Julie Townsend is campaigns director of Brake, a charity working to stop deaths and reduce carbon emissions on roads, and also working to support families bereaved by sudden deaths such as road deaths.
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