Government considering changes to new driver licensing

12.57 | 8 February 2018 | | 7 comments

Image: RAC

The prime minister has asked the Department for Transport to explore the introduction of graduated licensing for newly-qualified drivers.

Speaking in Parliament on 7 February, Theresa May said ‘too many people suffer loss and tragedy at the hands of learner drivers’.

Raising the issue, Jenny Chapman, the Labour MP for Darlington, said that one in four young drivers are involved in an accident within the first two years of passing their test, and young drivers are involved in 400 road deaths or serious injuries each year.

She asked Ms May whether she would consider the introduction a graduated licensing system for the UK.

The prime minister said: “I will certainly look at the request that she has made and I will also ask the Department for Transport to look at this as an issue.

“As she says too many people suffer loss and tragedy at the hands of learner drivers in this circumstance and we will certainly look at that.”

Already in place in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, graduated driver licensing (GDL) involves placing restrictions on new drivers which can include: a ban on driving in the evening and at night, limiting the number of passengers in a vehicle and reducing maximum speeds.

Newly qualified drivers acquire a full licence once they have gained sufficient experience on the road.

In October 2017, a Welsh Assembly member expressed his frustration that the UK Government is not considering introducing a GDL system, which he describes as a ‘potential game changer for road safety’.

The move has been backed by the RAC, who described GDL as a ‘very positive step towards preventing the loss of young lives on our roads’.

Pete Williams, RAC road safety spokesperson, said: “The RAC has been calling for a reform of driving education for young people and the introduction of graduated driving licences… so this is a very positive step towards preventing the loss of young lives on our roads.

“Evidence from other countries where some form of graduated driver licensing is used shows that it has been successful in reducing the number of collisions involving young drivers, but in order for it to be as effective as possible it has to be part of an overall package of measures including more extensive driver education.”

Brake is also encouraged by the announcement, saying the current system is ‘not fit for purpose’.

Joshua Harris, Brake’s director of campaigns, said: “Ensuring that novice drivers have the skills and experience to drive safely on all types of roads, and in all scenarios, is an urgent priority. Our current licensing system is not fit for purpose and throws newly-qualified drivers in at the deep-end, at great risk to themselves and others.

“We are encouraged that the Government will look into the issue of Graduated Driver Licensing, however, this process must result in positive change. Young and novice drivers are involved in a disproportionate number of road crashes and the introduction of a comprehensive Graduated Driver Licensing system is critical to reverse this trend.

“Brake is calling upon the Government to bring the UK’s licensing system in line with best practice worldwide, requiring a minimum of 10 hours professional tuition for learner drivers and introducing a novice license, with restrictions in place for two years after passing the practical driving test.”


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    I have become very wary of “quick fixes” which appear to offer massive improvements in road safety and which are supported by mainly anecdotal evidence. All too often the anticipated improvements fail to materialise but then leave us with yet another set of restrictive regulations that are incredibly hard to revoke. I fear that GDL could easily be one of these.

    The problem is that young inexperienced drivers have a high crash rate. Older inexperienced drivers also have a higher crash rate than experienced older drivers, but are less at risk than young inexperienced drivers. No surprise here as published scientific research shows that the human brain develops from the back forwards and that the last part to develop are the frontal lobes which are particularly associated with risk and hazard management. The research also shows that male brains develop more slowly that female ones. It’s why young men tend to make good soldiers – they perceive risk differently. It may be unpopular and politically incorrect to say this, but the science is clear and unambiguous.

    Night time driving bans, restrictions on the number and age of passengers, etc., may reduce the risk a bit, but only for the law abiding young drivers. It won’t do anything about the unlicensed/uninsured young driver with a car full of his mates.

    We have already introduced an element of GDL; We have GDL for motorcyclists, and since 1997 drivers passing the car test have only been granted a licence to drive cars, where as drivers who passed before got B+E, C1, C1+E, D1 and D1+E licences. Drivers who passed after 97 have to take extra training and do extra tests to get these licences, and trainee truck drivers have to pass LGV C before they can do C+E, so if GDL is going to be such a magic solution we should have seen major improvements in road safety for motorcyclists, cars towing trailers, medium trucks, minibuses and heavy trucks since 97. But where are the improvements? Look at the statistics anyway you want, but you still won’t find them!

    What you will find however is a serious driver shortage which is causing problems for transport and for the voluntary sector.

    Which brings me to another interesting conundrum: The minimum age for driving heavy trucks (over 7.5 tonnes), buses and coaches was reduced from 21 to 18 by the Driver CPC Directive. If GDL restricts night time driving and the number of passengers for 2 years after passing the car test, what will the implications be for 18 to 20 year old articulated truck drivers who are not allowed out after dark, and for bus drivers who can only carry 1 passenger under 21 unless the passengers are siblings or parents, or whatever set of complicated regulations are written. Bit of a pickle that because stated Government policy is to encourage young people into the truck and bus industries…..

    “Ahh!” I hear someone say “we can exempt them on the grounds that they have had extra professional training”. Sure we can, but that is saying that additional training reduces the risk, so logically anyone who takes additional training and passes extra tests should be exempt from GDL. But motorcycle fatalities have remained obstinately high, despite GDL, Direct Access, etc..

    What it comes down to is; you cannot put an old head on young shoulders.

    Edward Handley, Reading
    Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

    If it takes something like 20 years of experience to be as safe a driver as a 40 year old, then we need to start kids education from pre school playgroups.

    What is education and training for, but for the purpose of giving younger and less knowledgeable individuals the benefit of not only many years of history but of vast years of experience, condensing, I suggest, that 40 years experience to less of a problem.

    What if the mindset of a young person was altered to understand that further training will necessarily be undertaken over a known period of time. That that training will be primarily in road safety and then important principals were taught. Then, with that basic but prime knowledge, a young person would be better able to determine his or her own future when it comes to safety on our roads.

    bob craven
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    The great Russell Ackoff once observed that “most of what is learnt about the job is learnt on the job” and that is very much so with the driving task. This on the job learning process is almost a complete mystery to many people (including the people doing the learning) which is a shame as it’s a really interesting area of study. GDL faces a fundamental problem in that it takes the average person around 20 years of on the job experience before they become as safe as statistically possible. A few petty and unneccessary restrictions at the beginning of someone’s driving career is unlikely to make much of a difference to the likelyhood of them having an accident as evidenced by the utter failure of GDL schemes elsewhere in the world.

    Duncan MacKillop, Quinton
    Agree (7) | Disagree (12)

    Long overdue, but gratifying to read that it’s being considered at last. It’s a pity that May seems to indicate that young drivers are at fault, though. It’s all of us who suffer at the hands of an apparently complacent government. Still, things may change more rapidly now – can we hope that the next step will include ISA?

    Andrew Fraser, Stirling
    Agree (13) | Disagree (8)

    It’s always interesting to see that comments home in on the possible options viewing them as restrictions or reductions. Until you pass your test you have no rights at all and therefore if the system changes it needs to be portrayed as a gradual building up of rights up to eventual full driver status, rather than a perception of erosion of rights.

    I would think a good system would allow P plate type drivers to build up evidence of competency that at different rates would allow them the increased rights all the way up to full status. If anything does emerge, remembering that this is just a review not a promise, then it needs to be simple to understand.

    Peter W, Liverpool
    Agree (17) | Disagree (3)

    Graduated licensing is good idea as there is definitely a problem that needs addressing. We are constantly intervening in road safety at huge expense, and we then spend even more paying people to estimate what effect each might have had. The problem then is that official analysis is dangerously inaccurate and we spend decades arguing about whether we’ve saved lives, or caused more deaths.

    Let’s stop making these fundamental errors and start running RCT scientific trials. Running graduated licensing within these trials will PROVE what effect it has and this will enable policy to be decided using an evidence-led approach. You never know, we might even start to build a consensus!

    dave finney, Slough
    Agree (4) | Disagree (14)

    Aww, how lovely! A call for night-time curfews by people who would be themselves 100% unaffected by night-time curfews.

    I am rather against curfews or restrictions on who or what can be carried in a vehicle by a novice driver (stop calling them young drivers, you can be a novice driver aged 60!!) for a bunch of reasons.

    Various recommendations in the past have suggested banning novice drivers from carrying passengers, with the exception of close family. What’s a difference between say, a sibling and a sibling’s best friend, if they are both around the same age as the driver? Potentially equally as distracting imho. How about the drivers’ kid(s)?

    And about curfews, that’s a no too. Most recommendations have included an exemption for travelling within the forbidden hours for the purposes of employment but doesn’t this erode the purpose? Young folk leaving jobs at midnight, driving home tired? How is this safer than say, a young but experienced driver driving through the night because the ferry or something arrived early in the morning?

    I don’t necessarily mind the idea of power limitations similar to motorbikes – but then again the absolutely obscene prices for young person’s insurance “fixes” these issues.

    What about the environmental aspects as well? If a novice driver is going to a shoot with a friend, do people seriously expect two or more cars to be travelling in convoy with firearms when only one would be required?

    David Weston, Corby
    Agree (12) | Disagree (12)

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