Road safety: young and novice drivers Contents

2Factors that increase young and novice driver crash risk

10.During our inquiry we explored the reasons why young drivers were over-represented in road traffic crash statistics. Witnesses believed that there were several contributing factors, including physiological, behavioural, and environmental factors.

Physiological factors

Brain development and maturity

11.Studies suggest that there are physiological reasons why young drivers may be particularly at risk on the roads.13 The pre-frontal cortex of the human brain, which regulates impulsive behaviour, emotional arousal and the ability to anticipate the consequences of actions, is not thought to reach full maturity until adults are in their mid-twenties or later. In addition, the limbic region of the brain, which is associated with emotional responses, is particularly active between the ages of 15 and 24. The road safety charity Brake likened this to young drivers having “an over-active accelerator (limbic region) and under-active brakes (pre-frontal cortex)”, resulting in young drivers being more likely to take risks and engage in dangerous behaviours when driving.14 Some studies, such as research conducted by the YEARS project,15 suggest that these biological changes to the brain generally occur later in males than females.16

Young male drivers

12.The proportion of young male drivers involved in road traffic crashes is striking. Young male drivers account for 80% of young driver fatalities.17 Young male drivers are four times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on the road than drivers aged 25 years or older.18 Some witnesses believed that high crash rates for young men could be partly explained by the findings in studies about brain development, which could lead to a heightened tendency to act impulsively.19 Witnesses told us that peer pressure and years of misrepresentation of young men as reckless drivers influenced some young males to drive recklessly.20 This reckless behaviour could be a contributory factor behind the relatively high rates of crashes by young people on rural roads (see paragraphs 23 to 25), at night (see paragraph 26) and with passengers (see paragraph 59).

13.We asked the Minister responsible for road safety—Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State—about the higher proportions of young male drivers involved in crashes. The Minister said that the Department’s focus was on improving training and education to discourage dangerous behaviours.21 In written evidence, the Department said that the THINK! campaign had been successful in targeting young male drivers.22 The campaign conducts research which includes “attitude tracking” of young male drivers in relation to “risky road behaviours” in order to better understand the influence of social norms on their driving.23

Behavioural factors

Driver inexperience and risky behaviours

14.One in five drivers of all ages are involved in a crash within their first year of driving. The Department for Transport has stated that many young drivers who feel vulnerable on the road during their first year of driving may take risks to overcompensate for their inexperience.24 Brake identified poor assessment of hazards and a high prevalence of risk-taking as two specific characteristics of young drivers which increases their crash risk.25


15.Some young drivers’ attitudes towards speeding could be a factor in their increased crash rates. According to police records in 2016, 18.8% of crashes involving young drivers were due to the driver being “careless, reckless or in a hurry”, 10.7% were “travelling too fast for conditions” and 8.4% “exceeding the speed limit”.26 A survey conducted by Brake found that 57% of young drivers liked to drive at the highest speed at which they could maintain control of the vehicle—in contrast to 37% of all drivers.27

Drink driving

16.In Great Britain, young adults aged 16 to 24 years old are overrepresented in drink-drive casualties, accounting for 24% of them.28 Despite this, the longer-term trends suggest that young people are drink driving less than in the past. In 2005 there were 430 reported cases of a young driver or rider killed or seriously injured while over the legal alcohol limit. In 2018 the equivalent figure was 160.29 This could suggest an attitudinal change among young people to drink driving. Nicole Parker, representing the Under 17 Car Club Charitable Trust, told us that among her age group (she was 21 years old) it was considered “socially unacceptable” to drink and drive.30 This view was also shared by the students we spoke to in our engagement event.31

17.The legal blood alcohol limit in the UK is 80mg per 100ml of blood, except for Scotland which has a lower limit of 50mg per 100ml.32 Many witnesses believed that lowering the blood alcohol limit either for all drivers or young drivers could further reduce crash rates. The RAC, the AA and the Association of British Insurers have repeatedly called for the blood alcohol limit to be reduced to 20mg per 100ml, which would essentially be a zero limit.33 Some, however, believe this could be an infringement on the rights of individuals and have a negative impact on pubs, restaurants and the leisure industry.34 Of those who supported a lower limit, witnesses had different views as to whether there should be a lower blood alcohol limit specifically for young or newly qualified drivers or for all drivers.35

18.The Minister told us that the Government had no plans to lower the blood alcohol limit in England and Wales. She cited the work of the Department’s THINK! campaign as an example of tackling drink driving among young drivers. She also said there may be technological interventions available in future such as “ignition alcohol interlocks”.36

Mobile phone use while driving

19.Young drivers appear more prone to using mobile phones while driving, which is an obvious safety hazard. Our predecessor Committee said in 2019 that driving whilst using a mobile phone can have “catastrophic consequences”.37 In 2019 there were 18 fatalities and 147 serious injuries in road traffic crashes where a driver using a mobile phone was a contributory factor in the crash.38 Using a handheld mobile phone to call, text or send an email while driving can result in six penalty points and a £200 fine. Young and novice drivers could also lose their licence if they passed their driving test in the last two years. In 2019, our predecessor Committee recommended that the Government broaden the offence of driving while using a mobile phone to cover all hand-held usage.39

20.Research by the comparison website, GoCompare, found that 58% of 18 to 24 year olds admitted to using their phone while driving, despite knowing it is illegal, compared to 34% of all drivers.40 A recent study by the RAC found that 18% of young people admitted to video calling while driving compared to an average of 8% for drivers of all ages.41

21.Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) and the RAC Foundation both told us that a ban on mobile phones in cars would be unenforceable but called for greater use of in-car technologies to block calls and text messages when somebody is driving the vehicle.42 Nicole Parker told us that many people in her age group were “casual” about using mobile phones while driving and were not always aware of the damage it could cause.43 The British Insurance Brokers Association told us that app-based telematics (see paragraph 71) were becoming increasingly accurate and could be used to establish if somebody was using their phone inappropriately while driving.44

22.The Minister was “very concerned” by apparent high rates of mobile phone use while driving among young drivers.45 Following our predecessor Committee’s recommendation, the Department was currently consulting on whether to expand the offence of using a hand-held mobile phone while driving to “standalone mode functions” that do not involve interactive communication, such as searching for music stored on the phone or recording video footage.46 In supplementary evidence the Department told us that the THINK! campaign was also increasingly targeted at young people using mobile phones while driving. Recent publicity videos focussing on young driver distractions, including mobile phones, had received more than five million views among its target audience.47

Environmental factors

Rural roads

23.The vast majority of car driver fatalities, including those of young drivers, occur on rural roads. Rural roads usually have higher average speeds than urban roads and are often more sinuous and narrower, with more blind bends and dips than urban roads.48 They also have higher permissible speed limits, less congestion and less real-time monitoring. In 2019, 73% of young car driver fatalities occurred on rural roads, slightly lower than the 79% proportion for all car drivers. Figure 4 shows that since 2005 young driver fatalities and serious injuries on rural roads have remained consistently higher than on urban roads, although the numbers have in both cases decreased markedly over that period. In 2019, there were 64 young driver fatalities and 790 serious injuries on rural roads compared with 24 fatalities and 444 serious injuries on urban roads.49

Figure 4: Road traffic fatalities among car drivers aged 17–24 by road type

This chart shows road traffic fatalities among car drivers aged 17 to 24 by road type. It shows that since 2005 young driver fatalities and serious injuries on rural roads have remained consistently high than on urban roads, although the numbers have in both cases decreased markedly over that period.

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

Source: DfT, Road Safety Accident Statistics

24.George Atkinson, a road safety campaigner who lost a family member in a crash involving a young driver, attributed this higher fatality rate to learner drivers not gaining enough experience driving on rural roads and often only driving on rural roads for the first time after passing their test.50

25.We asked the Minister about the high crash rates on rural roads. As part of the measures set out in the 2019 Road Safety Statement, the Department committed to setting up a ‘Rural Road Users Advisory Panel’. The aim of this panel was for those “who are affected by rural road issues, including the young driving community, to openly discuss road safety matters directly with the Department”.51 Giving evidence in October 2020, the Minister told us that the Rural Roads Working Group had not yet met due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it intended to do so in 2021.52

Night-time driving

26.In 2019, 37% of young driver fatalities and serious injuries occurred in a nine hour period between 9pm and 6am, despite roads being relatively quiet during this period (Figure 5).53 This figure has remained consistent since 2010, with an average of 36% of young driver fatalities and serious injuries occurring between 9pm and 6am from 2010 to 2019. The RAC said that driving at night-time was particularly risky for all drivers, due to the lack of light and difficulty spotting hazards such as vulnerable road users and animals.54 We received evidence that the risk posed by these factors is exacerbated for young drivers due to their inexperience and a suggested higher propensity to take risks (see paragraph 14).55

Figure 5: Fatalities and serious injuries among car drivers aged 17–24 by hour of day, 2019

This chart shows fatalities and serious injuries among car drivers aged 17 to 24 by hour of day in 2019. It shows that 37% of young driver fatalities and serious injuries occur between 9pm and 6am.

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

Source: DfT, Road Safety Accident Statistics

The Department’s approach to improving young driver road safety

27.We asked the Minister about the Department for Transport’s focus on young driver safety. The Minister said that the Department recognised that young drivers were one of the four groups over-represented in crashes, alongside drivers of 65 years and older, motorcyclists and those who use rural roads. She said that the Department’s key priorities were set out in its Road Safety Statement and two-year action plan, published in July 2019.56 This included specific measures aimed at young people, such as researching the impacts of potential reforms to the driver training and licensing system (see Chapter 3), targeting communications to new drivers and their parents through the THINK! Campaign, and research on the use of telematics technology (see paragraph 78).57

28.The Department is also conducting a broader research project into young driver road safety called Driver 2020. The Minister described Driver 2020 as being a unique programme that was “huge in its intervention” and “has not been done anywhere in the world”.58 The project is being conducted by TRL with an overall cost of £2 million.59 Driver 2020 will test five non-legislative, technological and educational based road safety measures, in a randomised controlled trial, that may improve the road safety of young and novice drivers. Three measures focus on the learning period (see paragraph 50). The other two measures focus on the post-driving test period (see paragraphs 77 and 78). The trials will involve some 25,000 volunteer participants aged between 17 and 24. It is scheduled to conclude and report back in 2022.60

Older novice drivers

29.Like young drivers, older novice drivers—that is, drivers of 25 years and over who have less than three years of driving experience—are likely to be at a higher risk on the roads, due to their relative inexperience. The Department does not record statistics for older novice drivers involved in crashes because the police do not collect information about a driver’s experience level following a crash.61 However, research by ALA Insurance Brokers in 2017 found that almost 28% of drivers aged 25 to 34 admitted to being involved in a crash in their first year of driving.62

30.TRL told us that more should be done to collect this data because “all novices, regardless of their age are at an increased crash risk due to their inexperience” and that driving experience reduces crash risk far more than age. Research shows that gaining 7,500 miles of driving experience over a year can reduce crash risk by 36%.63

31.The Department confirmed with us that neither it nor the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) collected data on crashes for older novice drivers. We were told that this information would only be available either through conducting an in-depth study of older novice drivers or by analysing driver records held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), such as penalty points and disqualifications.64 The Minister told us, however, that the lack of these statistics did not necessarily hinder the Department’s ability to develop road safety strategies that worked for older novice drivers.65

32.Research conducted by the insurance industry shows that a significant proportion of older novice drivers—that is, drivers aged above 25 who are relatively new to driving—are involved in crashes. However, this is difficult to verify because official statistics are not recorded for this particular demographic. This absence of data is particularly disappointing given that our predecessor Committee recommended in 2007 that the Department, 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”.

33.The Department should commission a study of crash rates for older novice drivers and how the driver’s experience level contributes to these crashes. This would allow the Department to understand better the risks around older novice drivers and whether to monitor and target more actively crash rates amongst this demographic.

14 Brake (RSY0038) para 11–13

15 The YEARS project is run by the European Transport Safety Council and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety in the UK. The project seeks to gain a better understanding of young people and the risks they face on the road.

17 Department for Transport, Young Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016), May 2018, chart 12

19 Q43–Q47; George Atkinson (RSY0043) para 4

20 Q43–Q47

21 Q246–Q247

22 Department for Transport (YND0003) para 53

23 Department for Transport (YND0020) para 5

24 Department for Transport (YND0003) para 45

25 Brake, ‘Young drivers’, accessed 15 March 2020

26 Department for Transport, Young Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016), May 2018, p 17

27 Independent research commissioned by Brake into issues relating to speed, BRA1802-Tables, 2018, row 2017–217; Q49

28 Department for Transport, Reported road casualties in Great Britain: final estimates involving illegal alcohol levels: 2018, RAS51001, August 2020, p 8

29 Department for Transport, KSI casualties in reported accidents involving young drivers and riders (17–24 years old) over the legal alcohol limit, RAS51008, accessed 3 December 2020

30 Q171

31 Altrincham Grammar Girls School, Barnsley College, Harris Academy Chafford Hundred, and Queen Elizabeth’s School (YND0014)

32, ‘The drink drive limit, accessed 15 December 2020

33 Q136, Q170, Q173

35 Q136, Q172–Q173

36 Q245

37 House of Commons Transport Committee, Twelfth report of session 2017–19, Road safety: driving while using a mobile phone, HC2329, July 2019, para 1

38 Department for Transport, Contributory factors: Casualties in reported accidents by severity, Great Britain, RAS50007, row 57, columns EP and EV, accessed 11 January 2021

39 House of Commons Transport Committee, Twelfth report of session 2017–19, Road safety: driving while using a mobile phone, HC2329, July 2019, para 18

42 Q38–Q39

43 Q146

44 Q93

45 Q244

46 House of Commons Transport Committee, Twelfth report of session 2017–19, Road safety: driving while using a mobile phone, HC2329, July 2019, para 18; A full list of activities which could be covered by the revised offence is given on page 12 of the following document: Department for Transport, Using a mobile phone while driving: Consultation on changing the law, October 2020, p 12

47 Department for Transport (YND0020) para 8

48 Department for Transport, Young Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016), May 2018, p 10

49 Department for Transport, Reported road accidents, RAS10, accessed 10 January 2021

50 Q4, Q6

51 Department for Transport (YND0003) para 57

52 Q250

53 Department for Transport, Reported road accidents, RAS10, accessed 10 January 2021; Department for Transport, Road traffic estimates: Great Britain 2019, September 2020, p 29

54 RAC Motoring Services (RSY0014) para 16

55 Association of British Insurers (RSY0047) para 11

56 Q232

57 For full list of commitments see the following document: Department for Transport, The Road Safety Statement 2019: a lifetime of road safety, p21–22

58 Q261

59 Q242

60 Department for Transport (YND0003) para 19–26; Department for Transport, Review of interventions to increase the safety of young and novice drivers, August 2017

61 As part of STATS19 data.

62 ALA, Tackling Young Driver Accidents, accessed 15 March 2020

64 Department for Transport (YND0020) para 12–14

65 Q235, Q237

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