Select Committee on Transport Seventh Report

2  The vulnerability of novice drivers


5. In research studies, the definition of novice drivers tends to be those with less than three years driving experience. Clearly all drivers aged 20 or under are by definition novice drivers. But since people pass the driving test at all ages, there are novice drivers in all age groups. The table below details the number of people passing the car driving test at different ages in 2005-06. The great majority of candidates who pass the driving test are under 25. Of the 794,210 people who passed the practical test in 2005-06, only 197,137 (25%) were aged over 25.

Table 1: Number of people passing the car driving test in 2005-06 by age
Age Number passing the practical driving test
Under 17[5] 86
17 188,660
18 134,247
19 69,080
20 47,489
Aged 20-25 205,000
Over 25 197,137
All ages total tests passed[6] 794,210

Source: Department for Transport (Ev 85 and Ev 98) and Driving Standards Agency 2005-06 Annual Report

6. The data that would be required to identify exactly how many crashes are caused by drivers within the first three years of passing their driving test are not readily available. Casualty statistics collated by the police include the age of drivers and casualties, but not the date at which their licence was issued. As a result, attempts to estimate the novice driver casualty problem tend to use youth as a proxy for novice status. Drivers aged between 17-25 years are classed by the Department for Transport as "young drivers". Because this is the only data available, much of this report by necessity refers to "young drivers" rather than "novice drivers". We recommend that the Department for Transport, in collaboration with the police, should collect the data necessary to understand the scale and nature of the crash involvement of novice drivers, independently of young drivers.

7. Novice drivers are at a significantly increased risk of being involved in a road collision. Several statistics illustrate the problem:

8. Novice drivers are particularly vulnerable in the first year after taking their test. The TRL's Cohort Study showed that 18% of all new drivers were involved in at least one crash within one year of passing their test.[10] This fell to 13% in the second year, and 10% in the third year. Although the casualty data indicate the alarming prevalence of young drivers in collisions, this data does not attribute causation for the crash. However, research undertaken for the Department for Transport found that young drivers in fatal collisions, especially those under 20 years, were nearly 12 times more likely than those aged 35-65 years to have been at fault.[11]

9. The Minister and the Department repeatedly claimed that these collisions were simply "bumps and scrapes".[12] But the Department's own evidence demonstrates that nearly 38,800 people are killed or injured each year in collisions involving at least one driver with less than two years' post-test experience and nearly 5,000 of these are deaths or serious injuries.[13] The Minister divided novice drivers into one unproblematic, law abiding group, and one small group of people who were "rather lawless and anarchic in their attitudes […] a […] subset of the driving population which is driving very dangerously"[14] who are responsible for the collisions and casualties. The fact that 18% of all new drivers were involved in at least one crash within one year, suggests that this division fails to recognise the risks also faced by responsible young drivers.

10. In addition, young novice drivers tend to drive older vehicles which have fewer safety features than are offered on newer cars. This means that in the event of a crash, the injuries inflicted tend to be worse than they would have been in a newer vehicle with better secondary safety features. According to the Department, 20% of the 17-22 year old male drivers killed in collisions were driving cars more than 13 years old.[15]

11. While all novice drivers face an increased risk of collision compared to more experienced drivers, men are particularly dangerous drivers, as Table 2 shows. This is despite women having a lower pass rate in the driving test than males: 35.8% and 47.8% respectively. The trend shows that over the past four years, young male driver casualties have reduced, while young female driver casualties have increased. Nevertheless, more than three times as many young male drivers are killed or seriously injured, than females.

Table 2: Young driver casualties by sex
17-19 old drivers killed or seriously injured 2002 2003 2004 2005
Male 929 918830 869
Female 251 274288 276

12. Novice drivers are clearly very vulnerable on the road. They also pose considerable danger to their passengers and other road users. The Department for Transport must ensure that tackling this group of casualties is given a high priority across Government.


13. The Department has introduced a variety of incremental measures designed to improve novice driver safety over the past decade or so. These include:

14. However, the measures introduced to date appear to have had only a marginal impact on novice driver safety. As the figures in Table 3 below show, the rate of novice driver fatalities as a proportion of licence holders has increased substantially over the past ten years. The number of young people holding a driving licence has fallen quite sharply between the early 1990s and today.[16]

15. In comparison to this deteriorating picture of novice driver casualties, the number of people killed and seriously injured in road traffic collisions as a whole had reduced by 33% in 2005 compared to the 1994-98 average.[17]Table 3: Fatality rates for car drivers aged 17-20: 1992-2004
Year DeathsFull Driving Licence figures Rate (per 100,000 licences)
  1992-94 167 1,326,00012.6
  1993-95 160 1,224,00013.1
  1994-96 162 1,143,00014.2
  1995-97 168 1,133,00014.9
  1996-98 172 1,174,00014.6
  1997-99 162 1,173,00013.8
  1998-2000 154 1,131,00013.6
  1999-2001 154 1,001,00015.4
  2002 181 929,00019.5
  2003 192 861,00022.3
  2004 178 820,00021.7
2005 192998,000 19.2

Source: Department for Transport (Ev 162). Licence figures for 1995 onwards are based on weighted data.

16. We questioned several witnesses about the reason for the increased novice driver casualty rates but were unable to identify the cause of the problem. The Minister suggested that the worsening rate could be to do with the increasing number of miles driven and an increase in lawlessness among some young people.[18] The Cumbria Road Safety Partnership developed this picture, suggesting that some young people's attitude to driving "reinforces established understanding of young peoples' attitudes to risk taking behaviour […] across a range of activities including alcohol and drug abuse and sexual behaviour [...]"[19] Superintendent Thwaites added, "It is part of a wider agenda […] about anti-social behaviour and nuisance in general.[20]

17. The Minister accepted that there is a problem, and indicated a commitment to tackle it: "I am accepting there is a problem. Even if that is a problem of something getting worse or a problem of it not getting better fast enough, I am entirely accepting there is a problem which needs to be addressed."[21] He also agreed that, in addressing the novice driver casualty problem, the Department "should follow the evidence and everything else is just prejudice".[22] We support this statement and hope to see the Department live up to this standard.

18. The overall gains made in road casualty reduction as a whole, since the targets were set in 2000, have not been matched among novice drivers. Indeed, the rate of novice driver casualties appears to be worsening, and there is little understanding about why this is the case. The measures implemented by the Department over the past twelve years have been incremental and have failed to cut novice driver casualties. A change in approach is now required. There should be research into the reasons for the increasing rate of novice driver casualties in order that policy-makers better understand the problem and are able to design initiatives to address it. The Government must consider much bolder action to prevent these tragic deaths and injuries.

5   Persons in receipt of the higher rate of the mobility component of the disability living allowance may be issued with a licence at 16 years. Back

6   Driving Standards Agency Annual Report and Accounts 2005-06 Back

7   Ev 85 Back

8   Ev 20 Back

9   Department for Transport informal briefing to Committee 13 December 2006. The total number of road deaths in 2005 was 3,201. Back

10   Forsyth, E. (1992a) Cohort Study of Learner and Novice Drivers, Part 1 TRL Report 338. Forsyth, E. (1992b) Part 2 TRL Report 372. Forsyth, E., Maycock, G. and Sexton, B.(1995) Part 3, Project Report 111. Maycock, G. and Forsyth, E. (1997), Part 4, TRL Report 275. Transport Research Laboratory, Crowthorne, UK. Back

11   Department for Transport (2007) Second Review of the Government's Road Safety Strategy, page 19, quoting Ward, H; Christie, N; Broughton J; Clarke D; Lyons R; Trends in Fatal Car Occupant Accidents, DfT London (2007)  Back

12   Qq 347, 353, 377, 406 Back

13   DfT (2002) Introducing a more structured approach to learning to drive: Consultation. By way of comparison, in 2002 there were 39,407 people killed or seriously injured in traffic collisions in total (Road Casualties Great Britain 2005). Back

14   Qq 347-349 Back

15   Department for Transport (2007) Second Review of the Government's Road Safety Strategy, page 19 Back

16   The National Travel Survey suggests that the proportion of people aged 17-20 holding a licence increased from 27% in 2004 to 32% in 2005, after a steady downward trend from the peak of 48% in 1992-94. Back

17   Department for Transport Road Casualties Great Britain 2005 Back

18   Qq 360-361 Back

19   Ev 126 Back

20   Q429 Back

21   Q360 Back

22   Q351 Back

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