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The awful news over the weekend about the five young people who died in a car crash in Conisbrough near Doncaster. While there is no firm indication yet as to the cause of the accident, it does once again highlight the issue of road safety and in particular keeping young people safe.

The RAC Foundation supports the introduction of graduated licensing, but the government has repeatedly failed to set out its strategy to cut deaths amongst our young drivers. Below is a letter we wrote, with others, in January this year to the British Medical Journal:

 

The issue of the UK Government U-turn on alcohol minimum unit pricing (Godlee, 2014) is not the only evidence based public health policy that has failed to materialise recently.

Just as in January 2013 public health campaigners and policy makers were confident that a minimum unit price would be introduced across the UK, those of us working in the public health discipline of road injury prevention were similarly confident that the UK Government would carry out its commitment to publish a Green Paper on young driver safety with proposals for robust, evidence based change. However, at the end of the year a paper still had not been published.

Amongst teenagers, motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) are a leading cause of death and disability (Peden et al., 2008). In the UK, MVC injuries account for a quarter of all fatalities of 15 to 19 year olds (ONS, 2011; DfT, 2011).

The Department for Transport (DfT) made a clear commitment to producing a Green Paper in the spring of 2013 that would set out options for addressing the burden of young driver crashes on health and health services. This was to be supported by an evidence review carried out by TRL (Transport Research Laboratory), commissioned by DfT, and addressing specific questions of concern with regards to Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL).

GDL is a legislative approach used in the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, which has consistently been shown to have only beneficial effects on young driver crashes (Russell et al., 2011).

The TRL review (Kinnear et al., 2013), initially delivered in April 2013, concluded that there was compelling evidence for the introduction of GDL in the UK, and supported the findings of previous modelling work demonstrating that there could be substantial reductions in crashes, casualties and fatalities on the roads of the UK if GDL was introduced (Jones et al., 2012). The conservative estimate delivered by Kinnear et al., based on observed levels of effectiveness internationally, is that a GDL system in the UK would save 4,471 casualties and £224 million annually.

The publication date for the Green Paper was pushed back to June and then September 2013. At the Road Safety GB Conference in October 2013, representatives from DfT told the audience that the paper would be published before the end of 2013. In late December, in response to a Parliamentary Question, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill MP admitted that the Government was still “wrestling with the issues” and would “issue a paper when we have considered this further.”

It appears that the Government is now looking at alternative approaches, including the use of telematics or ‘black box’ driver monitoring technologies. Telematics is an emerging field. It shows promise, but as yet is unproven as a public health intervention. We would see telematics as complementary to a GDL regime, not as an alternative.

The need for GDL is clear and there is widespread support for its implementation from the road safety sector, the insurance industry, those working in public health, the police, road safety charities and politicians.

It is not too late for Government to forward the debate. It still has the opportunity to present a range of options to reduce death and injury on the roads. The international evidence for GDL is compelling and to exclude this option from the Green Paper would significantly reduce its potential as a stimulus for evidence based change.

We remain hopeful that the Green Paper will be published after this significant delay, that it will recognise the beneficial effects of GDL witnessed internationally and include the recommendations from the Government commissioned TRL evidence review, and that a frank and open public debate will follow.

Sarah Jones, Consultant in Environmental Health Protection, Public Health Wales
Frank McKenna, Emeritus Professor, The University of Reading
Stephen Stradling, Emeritus Professor, Edinburgh Napier University
Nicola Christie, Director of Centre for Transport Studies, University College London
Tom Mullarkey MBE, Chief Executive, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
David Davies, Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety
Elizabeth Box, Head of Research, RAC Foundation
Julie Townsend, Deputy Chief Executive, Brake, the road safety charity
James Dalton, Head of Motor, Association of British Insurers

References:

DfT. Reported Road Casualties: Great Britain 2010: Annual Report. 2011.Department for Transport: London.

Godlee, F. (2014) Minimum alcohol pricing: a shameful episode. BMJ, 2014;348:g110

Jones, S., Begg, D. & Palmer, S. (2012). Reducing young driver crash casualties in Great Britain – Use of routine police crash data to estimate the potential benefits of graduated driver licensing. International Journal of injury Control and Safety Promotion, 1-10, DOI: 10.1080/17457300.2012.726631

Kinnear, N., Lloyd, L., Helman, S., Husband, P., Scoons, J., Jones, S., Stradling, S., McKenna, F. and Broughton, J. (2013). Novice drivers: evidence review and evaluation – pre-driver education and training, graduated driver licensing, and the New Drivers Act. Published Project Report (PPR673). Crowthorne: Transport Research Laboratory.

Office for National Statistics. Leading Cause of Death, 2009. 2011 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=… 16 Apr 2012].

Peden M, Oyegbite K, Ozanne-Smith J et al. World Report on Child Injury Prevention. 2008. WHO. Geneva.

Russell, K.F., Vandermeer, B. & Hartling, L. (2011). Graduated driver licensing for reducing motor vehicle crashes among young drivers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, 10, CD003300.

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On the day that a Private Member’s Bill proposing the introduction of a Graduated Driving Licence scheme receives its Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Bill’s sponsor, Conservative MP Justin Tomlinson, explains why he is backing the GDL.

“It is every parent’s worst nightmare. The blue lights at the window, the knock at the door, the policeman on the doorstep to bear the life-changing news that your child has been killed or seriously injured in a car accident.

Sadly, this is the reality for four families every day in the UK. Our statistics on young driver deaths are some of the highest in the developed world and we stand woefully behind many of our contemporary nations in taking action to change these figures. Young drivers account for just one in ten of licence holders but one in four of road fatalities. Tinkering with legislation is not enough, we need bold reform to bring these figures down.

That is what I set out to do with my Private Member’s Bill, due for Second Reading today. I have met with road safety charities, the insurance industry, driving instructor bodies and the emergency services. I have examined in detail how other countries have tackled this problem and looked at what worked and what didn’t. Throughout, I have been mindful of the need to balance conflicting priorities: driver safety, individual freedom, economic contribution and enforceability. The Graduated Driver Licensing Scheme Bill strikes a balance I feel is appropriate.

A graduated driving licence seemed the obvious route to go down. Typically, upon passing the test, drivers receive a ‘graduate licence’ for any period between six months to two years that enables you to drive alone, but not with the freedoms of a full licence. Other nations like the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have all implemented a graduated system of some description and to good effect. Coupled with some form of restriction in the ‘graduate’ period, such schemes have seen up to a 60% reduction in young driver road deaths.

I received many representations on what restrictions I should include on ‘graduate’ drivers in my Bill. The aggravating factors that increase risk for young drivers include driving at night, having passengers in the car and alcohol. Again it was about balancing conflicting priorities. I have opted for a 12 month ‘graduated licence’ period. In this period drivers would be subject to a passenger limit of one and to a lower drink drive limit (five microgrammes, down from 35) or as close to zero as it is possible to get, allowing for naturally occurring alcohols.

Alcohol was an easy one for me. I know that the Government has its concerns about the impact this could have on the night time economy and argue that those who drink and drive will not be deterred by a lower limit. From my point of view, the argument for a zero limit in the first 12 months of driving is a simple one. Alcohol, even just one drink, even below the current drink-drive limit, impairs judgement. For a more experienced driver this can be compensated to some degree by this experience and the skills and instincts it brings. Young drivers fresh out of the test do not have this, they cannot compensate. Also, the economic argument does not cut it for me. We have the ability to eliminate the demonstrable added risk that alcohol brings, so the responsible thing is to act to do so.

The passenger limit is again about impairing judgement. The case evidence shows that so many of these accidents are when the car is full of young people. Talking to people, especially when they are in the back seats, is distracting. Again, young novice drivers cannot compensate. Again it is the responsible thing to do to limit the risk. One passenger is a fair balance between safety, freedom and enforceability.

Whilst the problem manifests itself after the test, it can be addressed before test too. There is too big an element of luck in the test, luck that it was a quiet time of day or that the difficult manoeuvres, junction or route did not come up. You can attempt the test at any stage and some people do get lucky. I know that the Government is examining a minimum learning period, but to me that smacks of a statist one-size fits all approach that overlooks the individual. Some people are gifted drivers, some are not. The learning process needs to reflect this.

That is why I am advocating graduated learning to sit alongside graduated licensing. We need a curriculum in driving, rather than a piecemeal list of examined elements. Rather than ‘yes, this person has been introduced to parallel parking’ it needs to be ‘yes, this person has executed parallel parking confidently and to a high standard’. It should be about competency, not about familiarity. This is something supported by the Driving Instructors Association who propose that a book of competencies needs to be signed off by an accredited instructor before you are allowed to book the test. This would be moderated by a group of advanced instructors to address fraud. I agree.

The final consideration is not only improving safety, but reducing insurance premiums. There will be a natural tendency for this to happen as a result of the reduced risk situation we would be creating in the ‘graduate period’, but more can be done. Again, the industry is like Government with a ‘one size fits all’ approach where pricing is done according to the average risk. The issue with this is that the average is skewed hugely by the very reckless young drivers who literally cause death and destruction, driving up costs for their sensible contemporaries.

Government should do more to encourage the use of telematics technology to deliver a far more individual insurance product, where premium is based on your driving habits not on those of a mythical ‘average’ person. I believe this and the market and price incentives it creates also can play the role of regulation. Night time driving is a prime example. Statistically it is the most dangerous time of day for young drivers and therefore carries a higher risk. Rather than Government imposing a curfew, let insurance companies, through telematics, incentivise it with cashback and lower premiums for those who drive less at this time of day. Incentivising low risk behaviour rather than forcing it on young people through legislation is psychologically far more likely to produce the outcomes we want.

Since my Bill was first introduced to Parliament, 512 families have received that knock on the door. If we can do just something today to reduce that number, we will have had a good day. We have the power to legislate to eliminate the obvious risks, to encourage better driving and to reform the system to produce better drivers. Now is not the time for caution nor tinkering.  Another four families will today receive bad news. It is time that someone took responsibility and took action. I hope that today brings us one step closer to that.”

Justin Tomlinson,

Conservative MP – North Swindon

www.justintomlinson.com

@jtomlinsonmp

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2013-2014/0022/14022.pdf

http://www.racfoundation.org/assets/rac_foundation/content/downloadables/young_driver_safety-box_wengraf-july2013.pdf

https://twitter.com/racfoundation

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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.

 

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Young driver safety was the topic of the day at a star studded event hosted by insurance company ingenie at the Royal Automobile Club this morning. Guest speakers included Max Mosley (Chairman, Global NCAP), Gary Lineker (BBC Sport), Sophie Morgan (TV presenter and artist), Richard King (Founder and CEO, ingenie) and Quentin Willson (TV presenter), who addressed assembled media and opinion formers on the subject of Insuring Safer Driving.

The discussion highlighted the severity of the young driver problem and throughout the morning speakers and panelists alike focused on driver training, education and telematic solutions as the primary mechanisms for addressing the high number of young people killed and seriously injured on the nation’s roads.

The event itself was well structured and engaging, and timely given the much anticipated Government green paper on young driver safety.

A shortage of time meant here was limited talk about other policy options. Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) was mentioned by a number of speakers. There was a variety of opinions, with some suggesting GDLs are unworkable and limit the freedom of young people. Education programmes were advocated.

The aim of the event was to gather interested people to galvanise support for an important issue. Mission accomplished. However, the opportunity to hear and digest more facts and figures would have added to the session.

The RAC Foundation will shortly publish an evidence review – Young driver safety: solutions for an age-old problem – looking at many of the issues raised at this mornings event. From this work, we would answer the questions raised today slightly differently.

Is GDL unworkable and limiting the freedom of young people?

Not necessarily. Recent research for the DfT (Watt et al., 2013) found that whilst ‘graduated licensing’ was not used as a phrase amongst the public, the concept of a phased driving licence system was generally received positively by young people, including the notion of starting to drive with a car with a smaller engine. Concerns about enforceability also fail to stand up to scrutiny, given that the majority of legal driving limitations depend in the first instance on self-enforcement.

Is education, education, education the way forward?

Maybe, maybe not. A substantial body of literature on the effectiveness of driver education and training initiatives has not found education to have direct effects on the collision risk of new drivers. McKenna (2010) noted “Educational interventions are often designed in the absence of theory or any formal body of evidence”; and “In some circumstances they may inadvertently increase exposure to risk”. It follows that too much faith in the concept of education and lack of analysis of its actual effectiveness has led to some well-meaning programmes not delivering expected casualty reductions. One of the reasons for this is that much of the training that exists tends to focus on car handling skills rather than all important initiatives to influence road judgements, attitudes and behaviours.

This is not to say education won’t work, only that knee-jerk faith in its abilities is no substitute for evidence of its success.

Overall, an interesting discussion and one we intend to continue participating in.

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The launch of the Motaquote’s Fair Pay Insurance scheme is the latest attempt to more accurately price car policies so that younger drivers are treated as individuals rather than merely a member of a high-risk road-user group tarred with the same brush.

The company’s tie-up with sat-nav provider TomTom will allow members of the most vulnerable group on the road to reduce their insurance premiums by being better and safer drivers. Black-box technology – bought upfront by the driver for £299 – will record several factors related to bad driving behaviour and hence risk: speed, braking, time and location, cornering and types of road. Drive smoothly and carefully, during the least dangerous parts of day and you will benefit from lower premiums. Drive aggressively and dangerously and at night and you will be penalised financially.

Other firms offering similar schemes include Smartbox from Co-op Insurance and Insurethebox. Norwich Union also trialled the idea several years ago.

In principle there should be a big market for these products. According to data from Confused.com, at the end of 2011 the average third party, fire and theft policy for men between 17 and 20 years of age was an eye-watering £3,413. For women it was £1,782.

It is not difficult to understand why the premiums are what they are. Young drivers – especially males – are far and away the most likely to be killed or seriously injured in a road accident. More generally those in the 15-24 category are four times more likely to die in a road traffic accident than from drug, alcohol or other substance abuse poisoning.

Given that schemes like Motaquote’s are voluntary to sign up to, privacy issues are unlikely to be a major problem. Indeed better recording of time, place, speed, etc. offers drivers the chance to prove they are in the right should they be involved in an accident responsibility for which might be disputed. But it does raise questions as who else gets access to the data – other than the insurance company – and when.

According to Motaquote’s Ian Brown:

“The police would have to complete a formal data protection information request form for the prevention and detection of a crime, so it would have to be for a serious incident. In the five years the firm has been running its other telematics-based proposition iKube we have never been asked for data related to a simple speeding offence.”

Anything that brings premiums down for good drivers has to be a good thing. It will also do something to compensate for the European Court of Justice’s ruling that from the end of 2012 gender-based insurance pricing will not be allowed. The big question is: what does all this mean for those young drivers who do not sign up for this type of monitoring? Will they actually see their premiums rise yet further as insurance companies regard them as having something to hide?

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Drive 4 Safety

I’m writing this from the train on the way back from a very high-quality presentation organised by Strathclyde Police and Road Safety Scotland. Like every organisation involved with road safety, the Strathclyde force is concerned about the number of newly qualified drivers coming to grief on their roads and this seminar was held to launch a new campaign, “Drive 4 Safety.

Being neither a young person nor a parent I wasn’t in the target audience but I was very impressed by the event, especially the afternoon session which showcased a presentation developed by the South Ayrshire Community Safety Partnership called “Reckless Driving Wrecks Lives” – a short film about 4 friends, out in their car for a night and the consequences that unfold from simple decisions – seatbelt or not? – reckless overtake or the safe option? At key moments the film stopped and a member of the emergency services, a bereaved parent and a road crash survivor stepped forward to give their own testimony – what is it like stepping from A and E to meet a parent and tell them that their son couldn’t be saved? What is it like going out from the fire station on a wild, rainy night to try and cut a teenage girl free from the back seat of her boyfriend’s car? How do you come to terms with the fact that your decision not to wear a seatbelt one night has left you in a wheelchair for the rest of your life?

I always think “there but for the grace of God” on such occasions because I’ve been down a country road upside down in a Mini Metro which turned over in a corner – my friend behind the wheel wasn’t bad, or particularly reckless, or under the influence of anything except a mismatch between his ambition and his ability. In another world we weren’t lucky, didn’t land safely back on the wheels in an open field, I didn’t make it to 20, and it’s my dad speaking to an audience of solemn teenagers about how it feels to bury your child.

As the conference took pains to point out, getting a driving licence is a great thing. It’s the first step into the adult world. It’s freedom, it’s independence and it’s instant kudos with your peer group. Hopefully campaigns like this one will cut the number of people for whom it’s also a death warrant.

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