Road safety: young and novice drivers Contents

1Introduction

1.In 2019, 88 young car drivers—defined as those aged 17 to 24 years old—tragically lost their lives on British roads.1 A further 1,234 young people behind the wheel were seriously injured. Others were also sadly involved in some of these crashes. In total, 287 people—including passengers and pedestrians—were killed in crashes involving a young car driver.2

2.The longer-term trends regarding road safety and young drivers are positively improving. There has been a notable and much welcome decline in the numbers of young drivers killed and seriously injured on the roads over the past 15 years (Figure 1). In 2005, there were 2,727 young drivers killed and seriously injured. This had reduced to 1,322 by 2019, a reduction of 52%. However, since 2012 that progress has now stalled.3

Figure 1: Young driver fatalities and serious injuries since 2005

This chart shows young driver fatalities and serious injuries between 2005 and 2019. It shows a notable decline of young drivers killed or injured since 2005.

Note: Does not include 60,120 casualties which have a missing age

Source: DfT, Road Safety Accident Statistics

3.Various factors are likely to contribute to the reduction in fatalities and serious injuries amongst young drivers. It reflects a broader reduction in fatalities and serious injuries for drivers of all age groups—a 24% decline between 2005 and 2019.4 The safety of road vehicles continues to improve (although this does not necessarily make roads safer for vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians), and traffic management safety measures are increasingly targeted at dangerous “hot-spots” in the road network. Improvements in technology, such as the dramatic growth in the use of telematic technology by insurance companies to monitor driver behaviour (and which are increasingly popular amongst younger drivers), can help to incentivise safer driving (see paragraphs 70 to 74). The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has also introduced a number of changes to the driver learning and training process in recent years to make it more rigorous, such as training on motorways, the “independent driving section”5 of the practical test and improvements to the theory test (see chapter 3).6

4.However, there are also fewer young drivers today than in the past. In 1994, 48% of 17 to 20 year olds, and 75% of 21 to 29 year olds, held a driving licence. By 2014 this had reduced to 29% and 63% respectively.7 This reduction occurred despite the proportion of young people in Great Britain’s population remaining consistent over the same time period.8 It is important for the Government to understand whether the reduction in the number of young drivers killed or seriously injured reflects a real improvement in safety, rather than a reduction in the number of young drivers or the number of miles they drive.

5.Despite these positive developments in road safety in recent years, young car drivers are still over-represented in the statistics for involvement in fatal and serious road traffic crashes. As shown in Figure 2, in 2019 young drivers made up 7% of all licence holders but were involved in 16% of fatal and serious crashes.9

Figure 2: Proportion of licence holders aged 17 to 24 compared to proportion of drivers aged 17 to 24 involved in fatal and serious crashes

This chart shows the proportion of licence holders aged 17 to 24 compared to the proportion of drivers aged 17 to 24 involved in fatal and serious crashes. It shows that young car drivers are still over-represented in the statistics for involvement in fatal and serious road traffic crashes.

Note: Does not include 29,756 car drivers which have a missing age

Source: DfT, Road Safety Accident Statistics; DfT, Great Britain Driving Licence Data, December 2019

6.Figure 3 shows that since 2012 there has been little change to the number of young drivers who hold driving licences and the number of young drivers involved in fatal and serious road traffic crashes.10

Figure 3: Driving licence holders aged 17–24 compared to car drivers aged 17–24 involved in fatal or serious road traffic crashes

This chart shows driving licence holders aged 17 to 24 compared to car drivers aged 17 to 24 involved in fatal or serious road traffic crashes. The chart shows that there has been little change in the number of young drivers who hold driving licences and the number of young drivers involved in fatal and serious road traffic crashes.

Note: Does not include 29,756 car drivers which have a missing age

Source: DfT, Road Safety Accident Statistics; DfT, Great Britain Driving Licence Data

7.These deaths and serious injuries, many of which were entirely avoidable, have a devastating impact on the bereaved, their families and loved ones, and those who support the seriously injured, some of whom have life-changing injuries. In addition to the human cost, these serious crashes also have a significant economic cost.11

Our inquiry

8.Our inquiry was originally launched by our predecessor Committee in July 2019 as part of an overarching inquiry into road safety. The Committee invited written evidence on the reasons why young and novice drivers are at a higher risk of being involved in a road traffic crash, and what the Government can do to reduce these risks.12 89 submissions of written evidence were received although no oral evidence was taken before the dissolution of Parliament.

9.We relaunched the inquiry in the new Parliament in March 2020. We held three oral evidence session in September and October 2020 with road safety campaigners who had lost family members in road traffic crashes, road safety charities and academics, insurance industry representatives, motoring organisations, and Baroness Vere, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, and David Buttery OBE, Co-Director for Road Safety Standards and Services, Department for Transport. We also held a virtual engagement event with school and college students from Queen Elizabeth School, Devon, Barnsley College, South Yorkshire, Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, Cheshire, and Harris Academy Chafford Hundred, Essex. We are grateful to all those who provided evidence to this inquiry and to the students who participated in our engagement event. We are also grateful to the 252 respondents of our online survey which covered topics discussed in the inquiry and was aimed at increasing interest in the inquiry among 17 to 24 year olds.

1 Department for Transport, Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2019 annual report, September 2020, p 19

2 Department for Transport, Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2019 annual report, September 2020, p 17

3 In 2012 there were 1,375 young driver fatal and serious injuries; Department for Transport, Road accidents and safety statistics, RAS10, accessed 4 January 2021

4 Department for Transport, Reported personal injury road accidents, by severity, Great Britain, 1979–2019, RAS10013, accessed 19 January 2021

5 Where the candidate drives for 20 minutes without guidance from their examiner

6 Department for Transport (YND003)

7 Kiron Chatterjee, Phil Goodwin, Tim Schwanen, Ben Clark, Juliet Jain, Steve Melia, Jennie Middleton, Anna Plyushteva, Mariam Ricci, Georgina Santos, Gordon Stokes, Young people’s travel – What’s changed and why? Review and analysis: Executive summary, (January 2018), p 2

8 Office for National Statistics, Population estimates: local authority based by a single year of age, accessed 3 February 2021

9 This figure is unchanged from 2018, Department for Transport (YND0003) para 7

10 Department for Transport, Road accidents and safety statistics, RAS10, accessed 29 January 2021

11 Department for Transport, Total value of prevention of reported accidents by severity and cost element: Great Britain, RAS60003, accessed 25 February 2021

12 The full terms of reference are available on the Committee Website




Published: 2 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement