Is better driver education the key to improving road safety?

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More than a third of parents recently surveyed across the UK thought that driving tests should be delayed by three years, with the legal minimum driving age being raised to 20.

But the RAC begs to differ, with spokesman Simon Williams saying, “The suggestion that the legal age for taking a test should be put back three years is frankly unworkable.”

Instead, he calls for driver education to begin at a much younger age: “Driver education for young people should start before they have the chance to get behind the wheel… in other parts of the world that education starts in schools.”

The Association of British Insurers is right behind this, saying that changes could reduce the high casualty risk among young drivers and potentially lower car insurance premiums.

One option is the introduction of graduated driver licensing (GDL), which could include night-time driving and passenger restrictions, as well as vehicle power limits. A GDL system in Great Britain could potentially result in a reduction of hundreds of deaths and serious injuries a year.

Finland, acknowledged as having the toughest new driver tests in the world, takes the GDL approach. Young people are first taught road safety in the classroom.

When they then learn to drive, it takes at least two years to attain a full licence, as young drivers must first attend a driver training school where they learn about vehicle control (in good and bad weather conditions), safety and basic car maintenance.

They must also complete 20 theory lessons and 30 hours of practical driving – by comparison, on average, UK learners take just 52 hours of professional lessons before taking the practical test. When ready, Finnish drivers take two different driving tests – one in summer, one in the winter.

After all this, drivers still don’t qualify for a full licence until they’re 20 years old. Learning to drive in Finland is expensive, but perhaps it’s a small price to pay for greatly-reduced collision rates.

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) has recommended a driver education system similar to that of Sweden. It would comprise a one-year “learner stage”, beginning at 17, during which drivers would have to total at least 100 hours of daytime and 20 hours of night-time practice under supervision.

Learners can then take their test at 18 and, if they pass, will get a probationary licence. During the probationary period, drivers will have a curfew and under 30s will be banned from carrying any passengers also under 30.

Julie Townsend, of road safety charity Brake, said TRL’s advice was further recognition of the compelling case for graduated driver licensing. She urged the government to act “swiftly and decisively” to commit to the system to help reduce the danger young drivers posed to themselves and others.

While progress on such changes is slow – a promised green paper on young drivers is yet to materialise – the DVSA has recently announced that the practical driving exam is due to be overhauled as part of a series of major revisions to ensure that the test prepares motorists as fully as possible for their driving careers.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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