The figures make for grim reading.
One in five young drivers (17-24 year-olds) will have an accident within six months of passing their test and 1,552 young drivers were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in 2011 – more than 4 per day.
To put it another way, young people are four times more likely to die in a road accident than as a result of drink and drug abuse, and gun and knife crime combined.
Or another way. Young drivers make up 25% of all those drivers killed or seriously injured on the roads annually, but only account for 8% of licence holders. They also drive less than older licence holders.
Yet, as a society we seem to turn a blind eye to the carnage. If this was any other area of public health there would be an outcry.
But RAC Foundation research suggests that by placing conditions on the licences of young drivers, fatal accidents amongst this group could fall by more than a half.
Novice young drivers are at particular risk on the roads because of their lack of experience (which to varying degrees affects new drivers of all ages) and also the biological and behavioural characteristics of youth.
The introduction of a graduated licensing system – including restrictions on night-time driving and the number of passengers – would allow young drivers to gain invaluable experience in safer circumstances.
Our analysis of graduated licensing schemes in other countries shows fatal collisions for this age group fall by between 9%-60%, and overall casualties are cut by 5%-32%, depending on the range of measures implemented.
The evidence shows that risk reduces quickly as experience is gained. Studies have found that the first 1,000 miles of driving may be the most important in terms of reducing collision risk.
The RAC Foundation study – Young driver safety: solutions to an age-old problem, authored by Foundation staff members Elizabeth Box and Ivo Wengraf – looked at evidence from several countries with graduated licensing including America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
As part of an overhaul of how young people learn to drive, the RAC Foundation sees an argument for a three-stage process:
- A one-year minimum learning period during which they would need to have experience of driving in a variety of circumstances: e.g. during the winter, in darkness
- A one-year post-test period during which there are passenger restrictions and conditions for late-night driving
- A final full licence with a two year probationary period (which currently exists and during which if a driver receives six penalty points they have to take a retest).
The Foundation also supports a reduction in the drink-drive limit for all drivers to a maximum blood alcohol content of 50mg/100ml (down from the existing 80mg/100ml). This would be of greatest safety benefit to younger drivers, with knock-on benefits for the rest of the driving population.
Here in the UK, the Northern Ireland Assembly is due to bring in legislation in the autumn to improve a graduated licensing scheme which is already in place.
Our research is published as the Government prepares to publish a consultation on young driver safety.
Some argue that these proposals are paternalistic and limit people’s freedom. This is nonsense. We should all have an interest in preserving young drivers’ lives rather than exposing them to undue risk at the stage of their driving careers where they are most vulnerable. This is about ensuring their long term safety and mobility. Not curtailing it.
Of course, we could just do nothing and let this state of affairs continue.