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

The proposal to put restrictions on new drivers keeps reappearing. In the first part of this post, we looked at where we are with that. In Part Two, we’ll look at the pros and cons of Graduated Driving Licenses.

Image by Gordon Turibamwe from Pixabay

Need a quick recap on Graduated Driving Licenses (GDL) systems? Here we go:

  • GDLs put restrictions on younger and/or recently qualified drivers. For example, they may limit what times of day they can drive, how many passengers they can carry, or the engine size of their car.
  • They are in place in quite a few countries.
  • In the UK, a proposal to bring them in seems to be in limbo.

This time round, we’re focusing on the case for adopting GDLs in the UK, which rests on some grim statistics.

The inescapable safety stats

The argument for GDLs is based on one inescapable fact: young, recently qualified drivers are involved in a disproportionate number of road accidents.

According to the RAC Foundation:

almost a quarter (24%) of those killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads were in a collision involving a young driver (aged 17-24 years old) even though this age group makes up only about 7% of the total driving population.

To put it another way, young drivers make up one in fourteen of our driving population, but are involved in one in four serious traffic accidents.

GDL proponents say that restrictions on the most dangerous scenarios for young drivers (such as driving at night with a bunch of other young passengers) could slash accident statistics.

Have GDL schemes worked elsewhere?

There’s good evidence that GDL schemes in other countries have reduced accidents:

In countries implementing GDL, the licensing regime has reduced collisions and trauma from collisions involving a young driver, typically by 20–40% (Shope, 2007).

Of course, there’s always a question mark over whether restrictions in the UK would achieve similar results. But experts in the field say is that there’s no particular reason why they wouldn’t.

Safety first, or freedom for all?

So, it’s pretty likely that GDLs would save lives on the road, and that has to be a powerful argument in their favour.

Nevertheless, not everyone is in favour. Critics have pointed out that increased safety comes with a price tag: limiting our young peoples’ freedom. Some argue that life is inherently risky, and that a completely safe society would also be one in which our lives are carefully regulated and restricted by the state.

If you’re strongly in favour of one view or another, the safety vs freedom dilemma may not trouble you. We didn’t find it so easy.

On the one hand, the sort of restrictions proposed don’t seem that draconian. Would it really hurt young drivers so much if they had to wear ‘P’ plates, or if they couldn’t drive a Lamborghini until they were 25? Obviously not. And the idea that these restrictions could stop even one person’s ghastly tragedy is mighty persuasive.

But on the other hand, do you remember the excitement of your first late-night drives, or the joy of taking a bunch of mates on holiday in a tiny car? Does stopping the next generation from having those experiences make the world a little bit greyer?

It’s a tough one to crack.

One discussion we’d like to see is exactly who would be targeted by GDLs.

Young, inexperienced, or both?

It’s sometimes hard to tell who GDL proposals are aimed at. Are they supposed to apply to:

  • all young drivers, regardless of experience?
  • all newly qualified drivers?
  • drivers who are both young and newly qualified?

In the UK, the emphasis seems to be on the first option. There’s often an assumption that youth, daftness, and lack of driving experience all go hand-in-hand. For example, Lucy Straker from the road charity Brake commented:

Within a 17-25-year-old’s brain development, they are much more likely to take risks without having the knowledge and experience in order to see the hazards that are being presented in front of them.

A graduated driver’s licence takes that into consideration.

Thus, young drivers face the double whammy of being both prone to risk-taking and inexperienced.

Well, maybe. But in other contexts, that would be seen as pretty discriminatory. After all, there are many fabulous young drivers, who are much more considerate, sensible, and appropriately cautious than older drivers. Some young drivers also quickly rack up driving experience.

If we base restrictions purely on age, it will inevitably result in absurdities. It could mean, for example, that a super-responsible 24-year-old with a pristine driving record, and seven years driving experience, might be forbidden to drive to his night-shift. That seems all sorts of wrong.

For an alternative approach, take a look at Ireland. The law there makes a distinction between novice drivers and young drivers. Novice drivers have a heap of restrictions, such as harsher penalties that more easily lead to disqualification. Young drivers, by contrast, seem to be mainly restricted with regard to vehicle rentals. This approach allows younger people to prove that they’re trustworthy on the road, rather than tarring them all with the same brush.

And yes, we know American restrictions seem mainly based on age, but over there you’re allowed to drive as soon as you’re out of diapers.

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