Young Drivers

31 Jul 2017

Young drivers in the UK are one of the most at-risk groups on the road. Under 20s are involved in 12% of serious crashes while only making up 1.5% of the driving population, and are twice as likely to die as drivers in their 40s. A quarter of drivers under 25 crash within 2 years of passing their test and a significant majority of them are young men.

Research has shown the reason to be a deadly cocktail of youth and inexperience. Young people are naturally quick to pick up new skills, but are prone to over-confidence. There are many situations where hazards are not obvious, and awareness of these comes with experience. Young drivers still need to put more of their concentration in to basic mechanical tasks such as steering and gear changing, and are therefore slower to react to hazards.

From a biological angle, the frontal lobe (which deals with impulse control, emotions and risk assessment) is not fully developed until the mid 20s. Researchers suggest that this may account for the prevalence of risk taking among younger drivers.  Speeding, risky overtaking and driving on drink or drugs are common contributory factors in crashes for this age group. Mobile phone use is more common among younger drivers, despite their increased need for concentration.

Peer pressure and distractions are also major risk factor for younger drivers. Teenage drivers are up to four times more likely to die in a crash if they have other young passengers in the car, and six times more likely to have a serious accident if there’s loud conversation taking place in the vehicle. Young drivers and passengers are more likely to not wear seat belts which increases risk of serious injury.

The highest incidence of accidents in the under 25s is at night. In fact, 17-20 year old males are 17 times more likely to crash in the early hours of the morning than at any other time of the day. This is due to driver tiredness, the increased incidence of drink/drug driving, peer pressure, overconfidence and speeding in the mistaken belief the roads will be quieter and less hazardous, despite poor visibility.

What can we do to improve this?

Somerset Road Safety run the Too Soon To Die and Contract For Life schemes in secondary schools, teaching young people about the dangers of passenger distraction and the graphic and far reaching consequences of road collisions.

We also run a new driver scheme called Up To Speed, which focuses on motorway driving skills and safer driving habits, offering a free workshop and an accompanied drive. Pass Plus is a national scheme of six practical modules that we recommend for continued practical training. It can be taken at any time but is ideal for newly qualified drivers.

Some insurers now offer black box technology for young drivers that monitors speed and driving hours. Drivers avoiding high-risk times and sticking to the speed limit are offered discount incentives for good driving practice.

A less formal approach is to have a parent/young driver agreement. Popular in the US, this allows the new driver to use the car unsupervised under agreed conditions, such as not carrying passengers or driving at night. This enables parents to set sanctions based on recognised risk factors and improve the chances of their child being involved in a collision while they are still gaining valuable driving experience.

Evidence shows that time and experience help reduce the risk of accident and injury. Young drivers who show overconfidence in assessing their new-found abilities are more likely to crash in the first two years of driving as those who are less secure about their skills. Being aware of the extra risks associated with being a young driver, and engaging with continued training are the best approach. Learning to drive doesn’t stop the minute you pass your test – it’s a life-long process.

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