A new report recommends a ‘more comprehensive approach’ to improving young driver safety, which includes the social and environmental factors that put young drivers at risk.
The report, written for the RAC Foundation by associate professor Teresa Senserrick from the University of New South Wales and Neale Kinnear from TRL, looks at why young drivers are ‘significantly and consistently overrepresented in crashes’ – despite a variety of pre and post-test initiatives.
The authors suggest it is time to stop thinking about ‘problem’ young drivers and adopt a broader, more comprehensive approach to improving young driver safety, which goes beyond ‘simply blaming individuals’.
The report finds that while new drivers of all ages are at increased risk of a crash when first starting to drive independently, young drivers are also affected by age-related influences linked to the stage of their development.
These include the ‘well-recognised’ heightening of sensation-seeking and peer influences, but also the less well-known vulnerability to distractions and fatigue.
The report argues that there must be an evidence-based approach to managing known risk factors – like driving at night and with peer-passengers – and advocates looking again at the successes achieved by different forms of graduated licensing introduced around the world.
The report puts forward practical examples such as encouraging young people to use public transport at night, and greater parental support during the early years of license-holding, as ways to reduce young driver crash rates.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “A huge amount of work has been done over many years to develop the way we train new, young drivers, focusing on developing the technical skills of driving and learning the laws that govern the use of our roads.
“The concept of the ‘safe system’ has also seen dramatic improvements in road and vehicle engineering designed to protect us when things go wrong.
“But the statistics are telling us that we need a change of tack: young people make up about 7% of the driving population but are involved in 25% of all crashes involving death and serious injury.
“We need to get away from the idea that young drivers themselves are alone to blame when things go wrong.
“Of course, individuals must be responsible for their own actions, but this research suggests that we need to stand back and look at the bigger picture, to consider how the wider environment is setting young drivers up to fail or succeed.
“Until the driverless-car revolution sweeps this issue away we will still need to teach the technical skills of traditional driver training, but alongside them we also need to help young people help themselves at a time in their lives when, physiologically and psychologically, they are more reactive to stress and therefore less able to take the right decisions than adults in similar situations.”