Report on Motoring 2013: Government Green Paper on Young Drivers

As part of a series of blogs following the publication of the RAC’s Report on Motoring 2013, Director of General Insurance at the Association of British Insurers Nick Starling explains why the upcoming Government Green Paper on Young Drivers is so important.

It is common knowledge that young drivers pose more of a risk on the UK’s roads than older more experienced ones – and, indeed, a report from the respected RAC Foundation today has again raised these issues.

Yet, despite all the academic studies, all the international evidence and all the numbers indicating that young people are much more likely to kill or injure themselves than other road users, successive Governments have failed to act.

However, the signals now coming from Government are far more positive. Even though the Green Paper on Young Driver safety has been delayed until the Autumn, I’m confident it will be a truly consultative paper, committed to exploring all the options.

In this year’s RAC Report on Motoring, I said that young drivers with passengers driving at night on country roads is a ‘toxic combination’ compared with motorway driving. Only by introducing meaningful reform will the poor safety record of young drivers be improved.

The ABI’s campaign has shone a spotlight on sensible measures1 that will have a huge impact on improving the safety record of young drivers. To date, only limited measures have been introduced such as improvements to driver education and minor reforms to the driving test itself. Although these measures are welcome, they only scratch the surface.

The insurance industry has long argued for a minimum one-year learning period followed by a short period (six months) where newly qualified young drivers face a restriction on driving during night time hours and a restriction on the number of passengers they can carry.

Commonly referred to as graduated driver licensing, it is a way of allowing new drivers to build driving experience in lower risk conditions.

The proposals we are advocating will provide young drivers with a protective environment while they are continuing to learn to drive, along with encouragement to obtain plenty of practical experience. The restrictions ensure young people drive at times and in situations known to be lower risk, so that they gain essential practical experience as safely as possible.

While we’re pleased that these proposals have hit the headlines, much more needs to be done to explain the proven benefits of graduated learning and address the critics.

All of the international evidence2 points to the success of graduated learning, particularly those schemes that contain both restrictions on the number of passengers that can be carried and a limit on driving during certain hours during the night.

As for the criticism that the restrictions cannot be enforced, again, the international evidence speaks volumes, from the United States and Canada to Australia and New Zealand, it points to the fact that young drivers do comply, given most are law-abiding citizens anyway.

Correspondence with officials in Canada and New Zealand has confirmed that non-compliance with restrictions is low, for instance, in New Zealand, the level of non-compliance is similar to other driving offences such as speeding and driving while using a mobile phone.

And let’s not forget, motoring laws are, for the most part, self-enforcing anyway, for example laws governing wearing a seatbelt, refraining from using a mobile phone and obeying the speed limit.

Too many young people have died or have been seriously injured on our roads and it is time for that to stop. The ABI is looking forward to the publication of the Green Paper and we fully intend to draft a comprehensive response.