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GDL could halve young driver deaths: RAC Foundation

Wednesday 17th July 2013

Placing conditions on the licences of young drivers could more than halve the number of fatal accidents among this group, according to a new report by the RAC Foundation.

The RAC Foundation points out that one in five young drivers (17-24 year-olds) will have an accident within six months of passing their test and 1,552 young drivers were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in 2011, which equates to more than four each day.

The report, ‘Young driver safety: solutions to an age-old problem’, suggests that the introduction of a graduated licensing system (GDL) – including restrictions on night-time driving and the number of passengers – would allow young drivers to gain invaluable experience in safer circumstances.

The RAC Foundation says that graduated licensing schemes in other countries reduce the number of fatal collisions for this age group by between 9% and 60%, and overall casualties by between 5% and 32%, depending on the measures implemented.

The study, authored by RAC Foundation staff members Elizabeth Box and Ivo Wengraf, looks at evidence from several countries with graduated licensing schemes including America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

As part of an overhaul of how young people learn to drive, the RAC Foundation is calling for a three-stage process: a one-year minimum learning period during which they would need to experience driving in a variety of circumstances; a one-year post-test period during which there would be passenger restrictions and conditions for late-night driving; and a final full licence with a two year probationary period (which currently exists and during which if a driver receives six penalty points they have to take a retest).

The Foundation also backs a reduction in the drink-drive limit for all drivers to a maximum blood alcohol content of 50mg/100ml (down from the existing 80mg/100ml).

The research is published as the Government prepares to publish a consultation on young driver safety.

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Young people are four times more likely to die in a road accident than as a result of drink or drugs. Yet, as a society we seem to turn a blind eye to the carnage. If this was any other area of public health there would be an outcry.

“Circumstances conspire against young drivers. Their youth and lack of experience create a deadly mix which means one in five will have an accident within the first six months of passing their test.

“Our research shows that putting certain restrictions on young drivers allows them to rapidly build up live-saving experience in the safest possible way. Putting a firm number on casualty reduction is hard because of the pick and mix approach to graduate licensing. But the evidence suggests that a full package of measures could reduce fatalities by anything up to 60%.

“Some will complain that these proposals are paternalistic and limit people’s freedom. This is nonsense. We should all have an interest in preserving young drivers’ lives rather than exposing them to undue risk at the stage of their driving careers where they are most vulnerable. This is about ensuring their long term safety and mobility. Not curtailing it. ”

Click here to download the report, or for more information contact Philip Gomm, head of external communications, on 020 7747 3445.

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A number of years ago, appearing before the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, the chair, the much missed Rt Hon Gwynneth Dunwoody MP, concluded her questioning on what should be done about the young driver problem by asking my colleague Dr Dianne Parker and I "Driving - is it a right or a responsibility?" Lightbulb moment.
Driving is not a right. It is a responsibility. And young, novice drivers need protected practice on the road in the early months and miles of solo driving post-test.
Stephen Stradling, Manchester

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