Graduated licences for new drivers will again be discussed by MPs as they look for ways to improve road safety and cut the death toll on Britain’s roads, according to new reports.
It could see new motorists under the age of 25 banned from driving at night, not allowed to give lifts to friends and face speed restrictions for the first few months after passing their test and then remain on a probationary period for two years.
Preliminary casualty figures released by the Department for Transport last week revealed that 1,748 people were killed in traffic-related incidents last year – numbers that are consistent with annual road fatality rates in Britain for the last decade.
One measure being considered to reduce these statistics is for the Government to introduce graduated licences.
Graduated licences to be discussed with MPs: Safety experts are to outline the benefits of restricting new drivers to certain driving hours, a specific number of passengers and cars with less power to improve road safety
Proposals are due to be put to Parliaments in September as part of the Transport Committee’s inquiry into safety measures for young and novice motorists.
MPs will hear from Dr Neale Kinnear, head of behavioural science at the independent transport group Transport Research Laboratory, along with other road safety experts, will attend the call for evidence on 2 September.
The Transport Committee will use the session to consider new methods to mitigate the volume of accidents involving younger drivers in Britain who have only recently passed their tests.
The committee will hear from campaigners such as road safety charity Brake and motoring organisations, including the RAC.
According to the Telegraph, Dr Kinnerar has calculated that graduated licencing for younger drivers in Britain could prevent up to 400 deaths or serious injuries each year, saving the economy £200 million annually through crash prevention.
By his estimations, it would potentially cut fatality rates by as much as a quarter (23 per cent) each year.
All new licence holders under 25 would for their first months have motoring curfews, only be allowed a certain number of passengers – who must be over a certain age – and be restricted to lower speed limits.
A graduated licence scheme could also see new drivers be restricted to vehicles with low maximum power outputs.
All new licence holders under 25 would for their first months have motoring curfews and not be allowed to drive at night. Experts say this would be unfair on younger people doing shift work
Graduated licences could also see novice young licence holders restricted to the number of passengers they can carry. It could also mean they can only transport experienced drivers instead of giving lifts to their friends
How these measures could be enforced is one of the biggest issues with the introduction of graduated licences, which have been discussed on a number of occasions – most recently up for debate in February 2018 after then Prime Minister Theresa May asked the Department for Transport to investigate the concept.
Dr Kinnerar told the Telegraph that research has ‘consistently shown’ that young drivers are ‘less adept’ at responding to road hazards.
‘The only real approach to tackle this with evidence of working is graduated driver licencing, and the evidence for it is overwhelming,’ he added.
Edmund King, AA president, welcomed the inquiry into the safety of young and novice drivers but highlighted that graduated licences have always faced issues in regard to ensuring the ‘right balance that will truly improve the safety of these drivers without impinging unnecessarily on their freedoms’.
Placing restrictions on passengers and night time curfews is problematic as it would penalise those driving for shift work. It is also very hard, especially for an already stretched police force, to enforce passenger restrictions.
Edmund King – AA president
He told This is Money: ‘Young and novice drivers do face a disproportionate risk on our roads and it is an issue that certainly needs greater focus from government.
‘However, we believe it needs to be looked at in conjunction with the reduction in dedicated roads policing to ensure enforcement of any new measures is practical, as well as improvements to drivers’ education pre-test in order to gain the maximum safety benefits without being overly restrictive.’
Mr King added that the AA would support some measures in-line with graduated licences, such as imposing a minimum learning period and a mandatory logbook during lessons to prove learners had experienced a range of on-road situations such as dual carriageways or motorways.
‘Placing restrictions on passengers and night time curfews is problematic though as it would penalise those driving for shift work.
‘It is also very hard, especially for an already stretched police force, to enforce passenger restrictions,’ he added.
‘More widespread use of telematic insurance products could help resolve this as it would encourage positive behaviour without banning new drivers from using their cars at certain times of day.’
AA president, Edmund King, said graduated licences have been discussed by MPs on a number of occasions but the same stumbling blocks prevent their introduction
Government statistics suggest as many as a quarter of newly qualified drivers are involved in an accident within their first two years on the road.
However, the DfT’s 2019 casualty data shows a decrease in the number of road fatalities for drivers aged 17 to 24.
Some 88 motorists in this age bracket died on Britain’s roads in 2019 – down from 99 a year previous – and 54 passengers between these ages lost their lives last year – compared to 67 in 2018.
That said, the statistics don’t provide an indication of the number of deaths involving drivers below the age of 25.
Under current rules there are very few restrictions on new drivers.
The only unique treatment they receive is stricter penalties if caught flouting the law, with the threat of losing their licence if they tot-up six points in the first 24 months of passing the test.
In Ireland, new drivers have to display ‘N’ plates for two years and are subject to lower drink drive limits
By contrast, under a pilot scheme running in 2019 and 2020, drivers in Northern Ireland have to display amber ‘R’ plates – short for restricted – for the first year, which doesn’t allow them to travel any faster than 45mph.
Similarly in Ireland, novice ‘N’ plates have to be used for two years to highlight that a new driver is at the wheel. They are also subject to lower drink drive limits.
Elsewhere, new drivers in Australia, New Zealand and some parts of the US are not allowed to drive at night when not accompanied by an experienced motorists, and also face restrictions on the number of passengers they can carry.
Edmund King told us it is important to remember, when looking at other countries who use a form of graduated licence, that most of them allow driving from an earlier age.
The Telegraph says ministers are leaning in favour of a US-style ‘Guardian Agreements’, which involves new drivers under 25 signing a contract with their parents with conditions they must meet for their first year on the road.
It would then be down to parents to impose curfews and limitations on how many hours they can drive and who is allowed in the car with them in the first 12 months.
Budding new drivers have only been allowed to take their driving tests again from Wednesday 22 July after a four-month suspension imposed during the coronavirus lockdown was lifted.
Safety measures have been put in place to protect learners and examiners from Covid-19, with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency publishing a raft of new guidelines for candidates.
This includes the instant cancellation of an exam if a learner arrives without a face mask and the immediate termination and failure of tests if a serious or dangerous fault is performed by the driver.
With an average of 4,000 learners sitting their test each day, there’s a huge backlog of almost half a million new motorists desperate to get their hands on their licence.
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