Coaching for Safer Drivers

AA calls for driving to be brought into the classroom

AA Insurance has written to the government to press for inclusion of driving science in the National Curriculum, as well as a major overhaul of Pass Plus, the voluntary post-driving test scheme.

The AA's concern is triggered by sharply rising premiums, and the increasing difficulty for young drivers to buy affordable car insurance. Premiums for those aged between 17 and 22 have risen, on average, by nearly 62% over the past 12 months.

At a meeting about young drivers at the Department for Transport in June, Simon Douglas, who is director of AA Insurance, pointed out that while the number of crashes on Britain's roads is falling, the percentage shared by young drivers is growing.

"This means that young people are much more likely to suffer a catastrophic crash than older and more experienced drivers," he says.

"On top of that, the cost of such crashes is spiralling – quite apart from the considerable grief and suffering they visit on families.

"Most young people find it hard to get their head round why the premium should be ten times greater than the price they may pay for an old banger. But it's got nothing to do with the value of the car, rather everything to do with the potential damage their misuse can inflict.

"Car crash injury claims of £5 million or more are becoming increasingly common," he adds.

Simon notes that in 2009 138 young people died on Britain's roads.* "Sadly, car crashes are by far the biggest killer of young people. By comparison, 26 young people died of stab wounds, which most people regard as one of the biggest threats to teenagers."

Mr Douglas has told Transport and Education ministers that education has a key part to play in helping to reduce this toll.

"It's not that young people don't know how to drive safely and within the law. It's that too many choose not to and put themselves and others at risk. The only way to instil the vital sense of understanding and responsibility that goes with driving a car is to start at a younger and more responsive age, such as at school."

In addition, Simon called for a radical overhaul of the Pass Plus scheme. This informal set of six modules currently has no exam or test at the end of it.

"Youngsters took it just to get insurance discounts – as a result, there is little difference between the number of crashes suffered by those who take it and those who don't. Few insurers any longer offer discounted premiums for those who have gone through it," he says.

"It's vital that insurers, driving schools, road-safety specialists and the government work together to bring about changes that reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on Britain's roads.

"Young people themselves recognise the risks associated with driving, and I'm certain that given the right impetus we can save lives."

Young driver education opportunities


BTEC in driving science

The structure for bringing driving into mainstream education already exists. There is the AA-sponsored BTEC in driving science known as Drive iQ PRO, which concludes with an examination. Some insurers already recognise that this qualification is likely to lead to a better 'claims experience' for them, and are offering reduced premiums for students who pass it.

The Drive iQ PRO BTEC qualification is equivalent in level to a GCSE, and is accredited by Edexcel. It combines state-of-the-art online learning with practical in-car tuition, and complements normal driving lessons. The final unit is taken post-test, and includes motorway and night driving. The course was developed in conjunction with leading universities, including the Driver Behaviour Centre at Cranfield University, to produce safer drivers by addressing attitudes and behaviour that can lead to crashes.

Supporting learner drivers

The AA Driving School last year launched the pioneering Supporting Learner Drivers course. It puts parents in the driving seat with an AA instructor, who helps them develop skills for coaching learners. The course is designed to ensure practice drives complement and reinforce the syllabus taught to learners in lessons with a professional driving instructor.

European Court of Justice ruling and telematic insurance

Following a ruling in March by the Court of Justice of the European Communities, from December 2012 gender can no longer be used as a risk factor in insurance. This will mean higher premiums for young women. But there is an insurance system that is even more accurate than gender in defining risk. Telematics or 'pay-by-performance' insurance measures driving style and gives a real-time picture of driving risk.

The more risk averse (mainly female, but not exclusively so) drivers will see lower premiums. Those who drive aggressively (mainly men, but again, not exclusively so) will see premiums rise. A telematics-based insurance system will also reward better driving with lower premiums much more quickly than a conventional no-claims discount will. The AA is launching such a product later this year.

This firmly puts the solution in the hands of the young driver. Better education, coupled with a useful insurance tool that measures performance and offers worthwhile guidance, has to be the way forward.

* Department for Transport statistics.