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Tips and advice for safer teenage drivers

First Eleven magazine - 6th June 2014

One in five drivers crashes within six months of passing their test. An 18-year-old driver is three times as likely to be involved in a crash as a 48 year old. Statistics like these are every parent’s nightmare and the reason why young drivers’ insurance premiums are so high, but not only can premiums be reduced, there are ways in which our children can be persuaded to drive more safely.

 

teenage-drivers

 

According to research carried out last year by Aviva, the largest insurance provider in the UK, peer pressure, not wearing seatbelts and poor training are major contributory factors to critical accidents involving young drivers. “The driving test has got harder, but it’s still not good enough to protect young drivers,” argues Ellen Booth, a campaign officer for Brake, the road safety charity.

Brake proposes a graduated licensing scheme which would allow novice drivers to build up their driving skills and experience gradually, over three stages. This includes a learner period for a minimum of 12 months; a novice period of two years, during which time there would be restrictions placed on the driver such as not driving late at night; and a compulsory curriculum education on the dangers of driving.

Extending the learner period has reduced crashes in other parts of the world. A 2006 report called Young Drivers: The Road to Safety, carried out by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation, found an eight per cent reduction in new driver fatalities in New Zealand, a nine per cent reduction in Florida, 12 per cent in Quebec and 24 per cent in Ontario.

Last year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety confirmed that 16-year old drivers in America were involved in 40 per cent fewer crashes if their state had a graduated licensing programme. But until such legislation comes into force in the UK, how can young drivers reduce their chances of an accident?

Leading by example

Research from the USA suggests that parental attitudes influence their child’s behaviour when it comes to driving and exerting some conditions and control over a teenager’s driving can reduce risk. The mother of a 16-year-old boy who can’t wait to start driving said that she and her husband won’t let him have his own car until he’s left school. They will also impose limits, including restricting him to only one friend in the car when he’s driving and stopping him taking lifts with inexperienced driver friends. “I know that will mean that I’ve got to drive him everywhere, but those first 18 months are crucial,” she says. A spokesperson for the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) adds that, “It is a lack of independent driving experience rather than age which is the dominant factor in the number of accidents involving new drivers.”

To combat this, the DSA recommends 45 hours of professional lessons, plus another 22 hours of private practice. Its Pass Plus scheme, a six-part training course taken after the test which focuses on driving in different conditions, is an increasingly popular way for young drivers to build on experience and reduce their insurance premiums.

Finding reliable instructors and schools

Finding an ADI (Approved Driving Instructor) and driving school that is concerned about safety is an important part of this, says Ellen Booth. “If you’re just learning to pass a test and you’re not learning about safety, then it’s your own life that you’re putting at risk,” she says.

It’s something that John Frank, who runs Prontopass driving school, focuses on in lessons. “I don’t allow people to take the test until they’re ready,” he says. “There are a lot of instructors out there who’ll say, ‘oh go on, you take your test’ but if someone slips through who isn’t ready, it’s a danger for the rest of us, isn’t it?” The key to safety, he says, is in changing young drivers’ attitudes. “A 17-year-old who shows they can pass the test is at the required standard, but the problem is keeping them at that standard. It’s on their own shoulders to behave when they’re out and about.”

Driving safety workshops

A sense of personal responsibility and a better attitude to road safety in young drivers can be achieved by better education in schools, says Rob Ffyfe, a trainee driving instructor and volunteer with Brake’s 2Young2Die campaign, who conducts 90-minute workshops in schools as a way of engaging with 16- to 17-year-olds about driver safety.

While there is a smattering of education out there – the DSA visits schools to deliver its Arrive Alive Road Safety Programme – it needs to be co-ordinated, says Rob. “It should become part and parcel of the school academic year. You wouldn’t even need to burden the existing teaching staff with it, because there are people like me who will do it on a voluntary basis.”

“It really does make a difference,” says Sophie Voice, 17, whose class was impressed by a two-day presentation organised by Surrey County Council on safe driving at Godalming College. It included talks by parents who had lost their children in car accidents and drivers, not much older than Sophie’s class, who were now in wheelchairs owing to dangerous driving. “It changed our views dramatically. Suddenly my friends were thinking about their speed, how many passengers they carried and not playing loud music. They want to be more in control.”

Reducing the number of young driver accidents inevitably would have a knock-on-effect on the cost of insuring what is considered a high-risk group. Premium rates for young drivers can rise to £4,000 per annum or higher in inner-city areas. Such high costs can have negative effects on safety.

It sometimes results in uninsured drivers ‘fronting’ – where a young person buys and registers a car in their own name, but tells the insurer that the parent is the main driver. The penalties for this can be severe. Young drivers are also forced into buying cheap, second-hand cars, which in turn results in more crashes. It’s a vicious circle, but Young Marmalade, the combined car purchase and insurance scheme for young drivers, is providing an alternative.

Winner of the 2009 Prince Michael International Road Safety Award for its work with young drivers, Young Marmalade provides safer cars which have at least four or five stars on the Euro NCAP safety rating. It insists that its drivers take the Pass Plus and implements a £45 supplement charge to young drivers who get behind the wheel between 11pm and 5am.

Co-founder Nigel Lacey points out that while, according to government statistics, 21 per cent of young drivers crash in their first year, at Young Marmalade, that percentage falls to seven per cent. As a result, it can offer significantly better car and insurance packages while helping young drivers to stay safe. That’s something which can help put every parent’s mind at rest.

This article first appeared in First Eleven magazine (now Independent School Parent)