Young driver crashes: the case for graduated driver licensing
Young drivers have long been recognised as a particularly high risk group on the roads, and devastating crashes involving teenagers are never far from the headlines. Dr Sarah Jones from Public Health Wales, an expert in this field, makes the case for graduated driver licensing as the solution to this intractable road safety problem.
The most dangerous thing that any teenager can do is get into a car being driven by another teenager. And, in a world that's full of danger, the stark reality of that statement, and our complete failure to adequately address it in the UK, never ceases to amaze me.
I'm not trying to argue that teenagers are bad drivers, but when it comes to driving, the combined effects of youth and inexperience conspire to place teenagers at high risk of crashing. Some, I'm sure, will argue that this must be the fault of the driving test, but the test does what it was intended to do. It tests the acquisition and application of motor skills in very controlled circumstances. What it cannot do is test the ability of the teenager to consistently and effectively recognise when and how to apply those skills in a very wide range of different circumstances. The ability to do that is the product of experience.
In the UK, currently, while teenagers gain that experience, they are at high risk of crashing. But, it doesn't have to be that way.
Research from around the world shows that there are some situations that are particularly high risk for teenagers; namely driving late at night, driving with their mates in the car and driving having consumed any alcohol. When we look at the data for the UK, we can see that many crashes involving teenaged drivers also happen in these situations.
So what can we do about it? Again, in other parts of the world, recognition of these high risk situations has led to teenage drivers being given permission to drive unaccompanied after passing their test, but not in these high risk situations, until they have gained more experience. This is called Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL).
Thinking about it another way it's all a bit like a toddler learning to walk; basic steps are one thing, but being able to take lots of them without falling over takes lots of practice. In the meantime, we keep toddlers away from places where they could hurt themselves the most if they did fall over; the fire and the stairs.
Graduated Driver Licensing is just the equivalent of a stair gate for teenagers.
I'm sure some people will argue though that it's just 'molly-coddling' or 'wrapping teenagers in cotton wool' or 'spoiling their fun'.
Road traffic crashes involving teenage drivers aren't fun though; lives are lost or changed forever beyond just the teen driver.
It is estimated that if we had GDL in the UK we could avoid 4,500 casualties a year, including 400 who suffer serious or fatal injuries. The value of avoiding these casualties to the UK economy is estimated at around £200M.
What this means is that today, 12 people will be injured in crashes involving teenage drivers that could have been avoided if we had GDL; one of those will suffer serious or fatal injuries. The loss to that individual, their families and their friends is likely to be incalculable.
Whilst GDL might be a step in the right direction, claiming that restricting licences for new drivers will eradicate the problem of teenager casualties is simply wrong.
You have written:
"What this means is that today, 12 people will be injured in crashes involving teenage drivers that could have been avoided if we had GDL"
It is folly to suggest a simple change to GDL will stop 12 people a day being injured in crashes. It might make a small difference but graduated driving licences are only a small part of the solution.