Novice drivers

Transport Committee proposes new restrictions

July 2007

In a report published in July 2007, an influential group of MPs urged the government to raise the minimum age at which drivers can take their test, and therefore drive alone, to 18

In a report published in July 2007, an influential group of MPs urged the government to raise the minimum age at which drivers can take their test, and therefore drive alone, to 18

In a report published in July 2007, an influential group of MPs urged the government to raise the minimum age at which drivers can take their test, and therefore drive alone, to 18.

The government has not ruled out adopting the proposals which might help cut road deaths. However, it has not committed itself to implementing the proposals, which currently have no time scale for implementation.

The report, produced by the House of Commons Transport Committee, also suggested that:

  • learner drivers should have to spread lessons over a year
  • novice drivers should be banned from carrying passengers aged between 10 and 20 late at night, and
  • there should be a zero alcohol limit for a year after drivers pass their test

The government has already announced a total review of the way people learn to drive and of the driving test. This review is progressing at the moment.

Why are such restrictions suggested?

When it is borne in mind that drivers under 25 constitute around one eighth of all drivers yet they are involved in one third of fatal accidents, the need for some way of reducing this type of accidents is clear. And there is little doubt that the proposals made by the committee would have an effect.

Many drivers do hurry their learning, and really set out only to learn how to pass the test – not how to drive safely in all conditions. It is quite possible to pass the test with no experience of driving in the dark or in bad weather. The one year requirement would counter both these problems.

Young drivers are also drastically over-represented in accidents late at night – indeed in the early hours of the morning a young male has 17 times the accident risk of the average male driver. The presence of passengers – especially young passengers – has much to do with this as drivers feel generally under a pressure to drive in a way that impresses their young passengers – and this often means too fast and too riskily.

It is also fair to say that young drivers are inexperienced in both driving and in drinking, and that for them any alcohol at all is potentially lethal. It also makes drivers more likely to lapse in to showing off to their passengers.

Probably the most important area to explore is the attitude of young drivers – in many cases it is the desire to show off, or to take risks, which is highest in a driver's mind rather than the desire to get from A to B safely. This is often the result of attitudes that have developed from days at primary schools , and which may owe more than a little to the way their parents behave when driving. The only way that these attitudes can be made to develop differently is through training, and this needs to start at school, not when driving lessons start.

Will they happen?

All proposals to improve safety have practicality problems of one kind or another. While these proposals make sense for the archetypal 17 year old setting out on driving lessons, they do not fit as well for someone wanting to learn at 40, who is unlikely to see driving as a way of impressing her friends, but may need to learn quickly for any number of reasons. Many would see it strange that under these proposals a woman who did not drive and who was pregnant would be unable to learn before the baby was born. There would be a need for records to be kept so that people did learn to drive over a year and couldn't defeat the system to, say, learn in only the last three weeks. Systems would have to be there to deal with people who completed the first six months and then decided to stop, or who either moved house or who discovered that their instructor had stopped teaching.

The AA would have concerns about many of these issues, and also about the notion of a driving instructor having to agree that their students were up to standard in various areas of driving. This would place a considerable onus on instructors properly evaluating their student's capabilities. Motorists have always been distrustful of the MOT test – because the garage that fails you is going to make money from bringing the car up to the standard required for a pass. The same criticism will be used against driving instructors.

There will also be a need to ensure that a more stringent system doesn't backfire and lead to even more people deciding to drive without a licence. Other changes to the driving test system in recent years have led to more unlicensed (and therefore uninsured) driving.

The government will doubtless produce a consultation document before it makes any attempt to bring in these changes. The AA will respond, generally favourably, but asking the questions raised above.

Read the full report from the Transport Committee (pdf document)

(July 2007)

AA Foundation reports © The Institute of Advanced Motorists 1999 and 2002. These reports were prepared by the AA Foundation for Road Safety Research and are reproduced with kind permission of The Institute of Advanced Motorists


Young drivers at risk

Download the full report (pdf)

Young drivers at risk (download pdf)


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