Is an extended drivers' learning period the answer?

A new survey reveals that one in five teens admits drink-driving. Add to that one in 14 who drive high on drugs, it is no wonder that four 17and 18-year-olds are killed or seriously injured in crashes in Great Britain every day.

These are results from a survey released by the national road safety charity, Brake, and motor insurer Co-operative Insurance (CIS).

The survey which involved 3,118 teenagers aged between 17 and 18 years also disclosed that a third had been a passenger of a drunk or drugged driver.

Do these findings justify the case for a lengthened drivers’ learning programme laced with restrictions? What role has the insurance industry played in ensuring this group of people practise sound driving?

In July, the Transport Select Committee produced a report which acknowledged the role of the insurance industry in promoting safer driving, crediting several insurers for their initiatives.

The report cited examples such as Norwich Union which offers an insurance package for those aged 18-23, encouraging young drivers not to drive between 11pm and 6am, when crash risk is the highest. Policyholders are charged up to 20 times more per mile driven during the time period.

Brake in partnership with CIS, are backing the Transport Select Committee’s recommendation that road safety education become part of the national curriculum by going to schools and colleges with their ‘Too young to die’ survival guide which spells out the risks of drink and drugged driving, speeding and not belting up.

Brake and CIS also back the call for government action to provide incentives for young drivers if the graduated drivers’ licensing (GDL) scheme is introduced.

However, the call to introduce GDL was met with less enthusiasm by Minister for Transport Stephen Ladyman who did not see it as an answer.

GDL breaks the learning-to-drive process into stages, and typically introduces restrictions on novice drivers to limit exposure to high-risk situations such as imposing a ban on carrying young passengers and a zero alcohol limit.

Among the incentives being tossed about is a no-claims discount for young drivers who have undergone the extended learning programme. The idea is so that they won’t be put off when faced with their first premium.

Brake head of education Jools Townsend demanded that the government overhaul driver training and testing and introduce GDL, which he said has been highly effective in cutting casualties in other countries.

David Neave, CIS director of general insurance, said: “As a responsible insurer, our role isn’t just about picking up the pieces when dealing with resultant claims… both the introduction of road safety education into the national curriculum and the introduction of GDL would play an important role in reducing the death toll.”

Peter Staddon, technical services manager at Biba, agreed that making road safety part of the education system is a logical move, but questioned how many of those interviewed in the survey had insurance.

“The statistics are quite worrying… Anything to educate young people about the dangers of drink driving is good, especially at school level but there is one problem – it is so easy to get to Europe and people who drive there assume there is sufficient leeway as to the limit you can drink.”

Staddon viewed GDL as having its merits, but pointed to possible problems in the implementation and policing stages.

“Surely it is better to get to the nut of the problem and understand why 17-year-olds are taking drugs and drinking. First of all, you have to be 18 to drink – what’s going on? We really need to get social responsibility through to them.

“Whether GDL is the right approach is debatable. Biba supports the Pass Plus scheme but that was never unilaterally supported in the market. The jury seems to still be out on it [GDL].”

The ABI wants to see a longer period of pre-driving test training, at ideally a year.

“Too many people pass these tests but are ill-equipped to be on the road. There should be a six-month to one-year restriction on the number of passengers under the age of 21 a young driver can have on board,” said an ABI spokesman.

With the UK seemingly in the throes of binge drinking, it would make sense to make young drivers work harder for their licecnses.

A longer pre-test period coupled with a staggered process to earn a full licence seems ideal to ensure they value the effort and time spent to earn the privilege to drive. The government’s proposals will be announced in the autumn.