Are we going to get restrictions on new drivers – and do we need them? Part One.

Image by akubudakgombak from Pixabay

The proposal to put restrictions on new drivers keeps reappearing. In this two-parter, we look at where we are with that, and whether it’s a good idea.

Remember the day when you first got your driving licence? If you were young – and you had a car – it felt like someone had handed you the keys to the kingdom. Suddenly, you weren’t limited to public transport or begging lifts from your parents. You could bomb down the motorway to a concert with your mates or nip out for a kebab at 2 am. You could go anywhere you wanted, when you wanted.

However, many have pointed out that these freedoms come with a price tag: young and inexperienced drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents. That’s led campaigners and road safety groups to advocate introducing a graduated driving licence. This would place certain restrictions on new drivers, who would have limitations until they had gained more experience.

What’s the state of play with graduated licences?

It’s worth pointing out that new drivers have been treated differently for almost 30 years. The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 means that drivers who get more than 6 points in their first two years of driving face an automatic revocation of their licence. However, some want the law to go much further.

More recently, it looked for a while as if the call for restrictions was gaining traction. In a February 2018 Prime Minister’s Questions session, Jenny Chapman (Labour MP for Darlington), asked Prime Minister Theresa May to address the issue of road accidents in inexperienced drivers. In response, PM Theresa May had directed the Department for Transport (DfT) to investigate the possibility of a graduated licencing scheme. According to the RAC, these proposals included:

  • driving curfews – restricting new drivers from roads during certain times
  • passenger numbers – legal limits on how full a new driver’s car can be
  • lower alcohol limits – reduction in the legal threshold for blood readings
  • speed limits – new drivers restricted to slower speeds
  • engine sizes – power output limits put on the new drivers’ vehicles
  • mandatory ‘P’ plates – required for up to two years after passing a test

April 2018 saw the announcement of a pilot scheme to be introduced in Northern Ireland in 2019 -2020.

But in October 2020, it all fizzled out. According to the DfT, the restrictions would limit job opportunities for young people (especially as this was during the first year of the pandemic) and wouldn’t tackle the root cause of the problem. Instead it advocated reforming driver education.

Still, in 2023, graduated driving restrictions were back on the agenda. A road safety advisory committee to the DfT approved a proposal to restrict new drivers (those within six months of passing their test) from carrying passengers under the age of 25. A key advocate for the change was Sharron Huddleston, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed in a car crash. The driver of the car was also eighteen. According to the inquest, speed had been a factor in the accident.

The latest news that we can find on that proposal is now ten months old, so we’re uncertain if the proposal has been canned again, or is just slowly grinding its way through government machinery. We do know that nothing made its way into the 2023 Highway Code updates.

What do other countries do with new drivers?

Quite a few other countries operate some sort of graduated driving licence scheme. To take three examples:

  • In the Republic of Ireland, new drivers “undergo a two-year period of probation, with ‘N’ plates a necessity throughout, and are also subject to lower drink-drive limits than more experienced road users”, according to the RAC.
  • Australia issues two classes of provisional licences for new drivers, P1 and P2. Each carries restrictions. P1 drivers can’t use any mobile phone function or drive between midnight and 5 am. P2 drivers ( more advanced, but still inexperienced) must display green P plates and must not drive above 100 km/hr.
  • In the USA, restrictions for younger drivers vary by state, with some linking restrictions to school performance! Many states forbid younger drivers from driving at night, and several restrict who can be in the car with them. For a fascinating and comprehensive guide, see this website.

Next time…

In Part Two of this post, we’ll look at the case for graduated driving licences in the UK. For now, we’ll leave you with two questions. Let’s say that you passed your test at 18, you’re all grown up now, and have teenage kids just learning to drive:

  1. Would you be in favour of restricting their licence in some way (for example, not being able to give their mates a lift)?
  2. What would you have thought of such restrictions when you were eighteen?

Answers on a postcard, as they say.

See you in a fortnight!

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