Is the UK driving test good enough?
Statistics don't lie, young drivers are some of the most vunerable on Britain's roads with drivers aged 17-19 being involved in 12% of serious or fatal crashes. Brake campaigns assistant Greg Marah looks at how younger drivers can be protected and what more could be done.
Have you noticed how young people are talked down to when it comes to driving? The young or inexperienced driver is seen as a potential hazard on the road. Statistics of course show that younger drivers are more prone to crashes: one in five crashes that end in a fatality or serious injury involve a driver under 25, and nearly one in four (23%) 18-24 year olds crash within their first two years of driving.
Rather than looking into the reasons behind the statistics, we as a nation are far too quick to judge. The use of terms such as 'boy racer' is a detriment to all drivers under the age of 25. The cost of insurance for this age group shows that the generalisation is hindering what should be happening; a proper education in how to drive and the hazards young drivers will face.
There have been many suggestions on how to protect younger drivers and how improvements can be made to the current driving test. Brake itself through the L for Later campaign promotes the use of a graduated driver licence (GDL), with minimum requirements for those wanting to take the test and restrictions on those who have newly passed.
Rather than drivers under 25 being talked down to, the powers that be should have a conversation with young drivers; it would be the simplest and most educating way to improve the poor statistics. So I conducted an unscientific survey myself amongst a few friends and asked them all the same questions. They, like me, are all under the age of 25 and have a varying experience of driving.
The reasoning behind my friends learning to drive was pretty standard as they fell into two categories; the freedom in their late teens or the necessity due to work in their early 20s.
When asked how they felt when they started driving on the roads for the first time as fully licenced drivers, again there was a split. There were those who were perhaps a tad over confident at the start and those who were quite tentative. It was no surprise that those who felt confident enough were the ones who had minor crashes in their first few years of driving.
The most revealing thing I got from my survey was when I asked them if they felt the test they had taken was good enough in teaching them to drive. Many of them felt it was inadequate.
One friend, who is currently learning to drive, felt that he was being taught how to pass a test rather than the real nitty gritty of driving. Another said he learned more in his first few months of driving than in the 50 or so hours he had of driving lessons. This may be a small sample, but for young drivers to be saying they feel the current driving test isn't good enough – well that is alarming.
The test as it is now lends itself to inexperienced drivers passing, including those who may not quite know the limits of their own driving, the hazards they may face and how to adapt to differing conditions. The fact is that 89% of young UK drivers complete less than the recommended 40 hours of driving lessons before taking their test. All of these are significant reasons why younger drivers are involved in more serious car crashes than other age groups.
Britain should now look to other nations for ways to improve the current test. In Finland they have an extensive and stringent test for learner drivers. To obtain a full unrestricted licence, budding motorists must have been learning for a minimum of two years and they have to complete sessions driving at night and on skid pads.
There's also the option of a graduated driving licence, like the one Brake recommends. It has proven to save plenty of lives and the trauma to families could be limited. The statistics back this up: after the introduction of GDL in New Zealand, injuries reduced by 23% for 15-19 year olds and 12% for 20-24 year olds.
It is time the government has a serious discussion over whether the current driving test is adequate for the world we live in.
I also support some form of GDL and more emphasis on continuing assessment and driver development - perhaps a compulsory session with an instructor every 10 years to brush up fading skills and update techniques. Less emphasis on forever reducing speed limits but rather how to judge appropriate speed would be effective in the medium term.
Martin - advanced driving instructor