Road Safety - Transport Committee Contents

4  Young drivers

Road safety for young drivers

19.  Road accidents are the main cause of death for young people aged 15-24.[57] In 2010 there were 283 fatalities amongst car occupants aged 16-25. 158 young drivers were killed.[58] Young male drivers are particularly at risk of being killed or seriously injured in car accidents. 27% of 17-19 year old males are involved in a road collision within the first year of passing their test.[59] The Government has assured us that reducing the number of young people killed on the roads is a priority. In its response to our second report on the cost of motor insurance, the following commitment was given:

It is a particular priority for this Government to sustain the sharp reduction in the figures of young driver fatalities. The Government recognises that, for young drivers in particular, the most effective way of reducing costs of insurance is to reduce the number of road accidents and casualties for this group and it will continue to work with the police, road safety groups, service providers and road users to achieve this. The road safety strategy proposes a large number of actions and measures, including on-going and new measures to look at driver training and testing.[60]

20.   The Government describes its strategy to improve young driver road safety as follows:

We propose to make further progress in reducing novice driver and rider collisions using an approach based on:

  • education first - we will continue to explore further ways to ensure that young people acquire the appropriate skills and attitudes;
  • developing a new post test vocational qualification - we will work with trainers, insurers and young drivers on an effective successor to the Pass Plus scheme. This will help newly qualified drivers to gain the necessary attitudes and experience to be safe and responsible road users, with appropriate accreditation and assessment built into the process to ensure market confidence in the new qualification;
  • including safety messages in the theory test;
  • modernisation of the driver training industry so that instructors can offer the range and standards of service that consumers need, and consumers can make an informed choice as to which instructor best meets their individual needs; and
  • improving the content and delivery of motorcycle training so that it meets the needs of modern day riding.[61]

The number of vehicle collisions resulting in death or serious injury involving a young driver (17-24) is an indicator in the outcomes framework to monitor progress in this area.[62] During our inquiry we have heard about a range of options that witnesses thought the Government should pursue to reduce casualties amongst young drivers. These include pre-driver education, changes to the driving test and post-test measures.

Pre-driver training

21.  A number of witnesses proposed that young people should be trained in motoring skills before undertaking formal driver training in order to embed basic skills and road safety awareness at an earlier age. PACTS acknowledged that there is a gap in the educational provision for young people of secondary school age, compared to the effort put into road safety education for primary school pupils.[63] Quentin Willson advocated early driver education as a way of fostering a safer attitude toward motoring before young people are "completely corrupted and corroded" by the "awful mental detritus" of poor road safety messages they might otherwise receive.[64] He highlighted research from Sweden which indicated that early pre-driver training could reduce KSIs by up to 41% amongst young drivers.[65] Such a programme worked because younger learners were "hugely receptive, anxious to learn and have mastered the all-important below-the-dashboard techniques before they start learning on public roads."[66]

22.  However, others took a more cautious approach to pre-driver education. PACTS and Brake warned that pre-driver education risked fostering "complacency" or "overconfidence" amongst young drivers.[67] These organisations argued that any such training must not only be skills-based, but also must actively work to challenge attitudes and highlight the risks involved in driving.

23.  Mr Penning acknowledged that pre-driver education was an area in which more work could be done, but did not outline specific plans in this area:

I think that we could be targeting people even younger than that in understanding not how to drive a car, but the principles and the dangers involved, and dealing with drink and drugs and natural peer pressure.[68]

The driving test

24.  Many of our witnesses said that the driving test is not currently fit for purpose.[69] The Government has made a number of changes to the driving test since taking office. The DSA told us that the driving test is kept under "regular review". They explained that there had been recent action to improve the test:

Initiatives recently introduced or forthcoming include:

  • case studies included in theory tests since September 2009;
  • stepping up our encouragement of practical test candidates being accompanied on test by their driving instructor since April 2010;
  • an assessment of independent driving during the practical test was introduced into all our practical tests with effect from October 2010;
  • no longer publishing questions currently "live" in the theory test (from January 2012);
  • trialling film clips with road safety messages in theory tests from September 2011; and
  • completion of phase one of a trial to assess the effectiveness of a new approach to Learning to Drive. The initial findings are expected in spring 2012.[70]

We recommend that the Department provides an update of the initial findings of the Learning to Drive programme with its response to this report.

25.  Mr Penning told us that he had "looked carefully" at the test and he believed these changes were "pretty radical".[71] However, he also acknowledged that there was more work to be done.[72] On this matter, we agree. For example, the idea of introducing a training logbook is being explored to track the number of hours training learners receive and the types of skills they gain.[73] Brake told us that about 50,000 young drivers each year pass their test with less than six months' driving experience.[74] The absence of motorway or night driving from the test was also noted.[75]

Post-test changes

26.   Different ways of improving road safety for newly qualified drivers were raised with us during the inquiry. The IAM advocated post-test interventions to improve driver training. It highlighted an Austrian example whereby a 33% reduction in young male deaths on the road was achieved through the provision of three post-test training interventions.[76] However, the ABI argued that "if you have a test which means you have to have post-test training, there is something wrong with the test."[77]

27.  The ABI, alongside others, favoured graduated licensing instead, which places restrictions on particular types of behaviour for those who have recently passed their test. In particular, restrictions on the number of passengers who could be carried or on night-time driving were proposed.[78] Brake also favoured graduated licensing as a means for novice drivers to "develop their skills and experience gradually over time while their exposure to the riskiest situations is restricted."[79] Our predecessor Committee called for the consideration of graduated licensing as part of much needed reform of the driver training process.[80]

28.  Mr Penning told us that he was "looking very much" at such measures.[81] However, he was "not convinced about the evidence on graduated testing"[82] and believed existing post-test training "has not worked".[83] In particular, he noted that young people seeking employment opportunities could potentially be disadvantaged by restrictions on their freedom to drive.[84] The road safety strategy states that "we will work with trainers, insurers and young drivers to ensure there is an effective successor to the Pass Plus scheme."[85] Yet progress in this area seems to have stalled. In addition, insurers told us that they would not offer discounts as incentives for young drivers to undertake such training.[86]


29.  The ABI told us that "the Framework does not take a robust approach to young driver road safety"[87] and we are inclined to agree. We have heard many different proposals for reducing the casualty rate amongst young drivers during the course of our inquiry. These cover pre-driver education, changes to driver training and post-test training or restrictions. We recognise that some aspects of previous attempts to improve young driver safety have not worked as well as hoped (for example, Pass Plus) and that international experience might not be directly applicable to the UK. Our predecessor Committee called for reform of the driver training system in 2007. However, we remain concerned that there is no clear strategy for young drivers, particularly in respect of the action expected from local authorities and other parties, despite the Government's commitment to us that this would be a "particular priority" of its new Strategic Framework. We recommend that the Government initiate an independent review of driver training to assess thoroughly the various options put forward to reduce the casualty rate for young drivers and make recommendations about which are likely to be most effective. We recommend this review be completed before the end of this Parliament.

57   Strategic Framework p 6 Back

58   Reported road casualties 2010 p36 Back

59   Novice Drivers, Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, HC 355-1 Back

60   The cost of motor insurance: Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2010-12, p9 Back

61   Strategic Framework p53  Back

62   Strategic Framework p74 Back

63   Q 126 Back

64   Q 20 Back

65   Q 20, Ev 151 Back

66   Ev 152 Back

67   Q 126 Back

68   Q 361 Back

69   Q 147, Ev 150 Back

70   Work of the Driving Standards Agency and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, HC 1610-i,Ev 20 para 17  Back

71   Q 360 Back

72   Q 360 Back

73   Q 363 Back

74   Q 144 Back

75   Q 25, Ev 150 Back

76   Q 20, Q 21 Back

77   Q 21 Back

78   Q 25 Back

79   Q 126 Back

80   Novice Drivers, Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, HC 355-1,para 29 Back

81   Q 363 Back

82   Q 362 Back

83   Q 363 Back

84   Q 362 Back

85   Strategic Framework p9 Back

86   Q 24 Back

87   Ev 112 para 2.2 Back

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Prepared 18 July 2012