Young Drivers and Road Safety – The long and winding road

Road safety

After a lifetime of promoting safe riding/driving, enforcement of traffic related legislation and unfortunately, dealing with the aftermath and human tragedy of road collisions, I have more than a passing interest in road safety matters…

There is a long history of road safety education and publicity campaigns in Great Britain (see here) but, despite the best efforts of those road safety professionals and organisations, attempting to supplement government action/inaction on the subject, there are still far too many people killed and seriously injured on our roads

We may not suffer the KSI levels experienced by some of our European counterparts (see here) but even the current government’s policy – Making Roads Safer – acknowledges the fact that, despite the UK having one of the best road safety records in the world; more can be done to prevent deaths and serious injuries.

This week the British media reported that “young drivers could face a curfew as part of government efforts to prevent accidents” and reduce “sky-high” insurance premiums (BBC News).

It is alarming that a fifth of people killed or seriously injured on our roads in 2011 were involved in a collision where at least one driver was aged 17 to 24… Improving the safety of our young drivers is therefore a real priority…(Patrick McLoughlin MP – Transport Secretary)

Responding to the above news, The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) expectedly delivered an opinion on the matter (see here). The IAM director of policy and research Neil Greig welcomed the Green Paper saying it was; “a once in a generation opportunity to help new drivers survive the crucial first six months of driving.” 

Each day, nearly 3,500 people die on the roads. Tens of thousands more are injured. Families are broken apart. The futures of young people are dashed. Road accidents have become the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 29…(European Youth Forum for Road Safety)

There may have been 100,000 lives saved during last 10 years as a direct/indirect result of European Commission action on road safety however; as the EYFRS have said “this is an unacceptable price to pay for mobility” and I would say now is not the time to be complacent. I don’t expect many would disagree with that.

As a driver foremost but also as a member of the IAM, I agree that many of the Young Driver KSI problem surround the need for “a system that embeds continuous learning for all new drivers.”

When we all first learn to drive we’re actually learning how to pass the driving test, but there’s so much more that you can achieve in your car…(IAM)

Basic driving skills can actually be learned in a relatively short period of time, you can be taught how to pass your driving test however; the necessary skills required for continued safe driving after that basic training are ongoing life-skills.



As the above video clips show, the United Kingdom is not alone with acknowledging there is a massive problem with our young (and/or newly qualified) drivers being injured and killed on the road. Who (if any of us) will end up being succesful in addressing or eradicating the problem still remains to be seen.

The Government’s THINK! campaign which provides road safety information for road users, along with resources for road safety professionals, aims to; “encourage safer behaviour to reduce the number of people killed and injured on our roads every year.”

The human and social costs of road accidents are immeasurable, and with the price of each fatal casualty on the road estimated to be £1.7 million, it makes no financial sense to cut campaigns…(Dr Alistair Cheyne OBE – IAM Chairman)

At the risk of using business-speak which I abhor; this particular problem (and road safety in general) requires a totally holistic approach to treat the causation factors behind collisions. Vehicles may now be more inherently safe than ever before however; any sustainable improvement in road safety also involves dealing with the human factor. One which will always require a combination of education, practical training, assessment and enforcement action when applicable.

That said, with all the government austerity measures, many public agencies and local authorities are now facing reduced funding. With the expectation of even further cuts probably just over the horizon, there are severe implications for the future of proactive road safety initiatives.

The 20% cuts to police budgets over the next four years will also have a profound impact upon the availability of police resources. The officers once engaged in road safety, the enforcement of traffic legislation, road collision investigation and the influencing of driver behaviour are already in almost terminal decline.

With an 80% reduction of funding for road safety campaigning (in real terms) over recent years, many motoring organisations like the RAC and the IAM, along with Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents have condemned government plans and are worried for the future. Road safety may be public safety function but it’s not one immune to the HM Treasury axe. 

This reduction of road safety resources has compounded the poor safety legacy of an inadequately and poorly maintained road network, an infrastructure which has not received the investment it once enjoyed for many years now. Even the The Road Safety Observatory, which provides independent research and information for anyone working in road safety, shows a cover image depicting a long and winding road.

There are those that argue our older drivers are just as much of a problem to road safety. They use the adage of the elderly driver talking to a young driver who says; “I’ve been driving for fifty years and never had an accident” to which the listener replies; “ok, but I’m sure you’ve caused hundreds” but that’s another story for another day.

Without some tangible reversal of policy, and a little increased funding for the future which is highly unlikely, things don’t look very good for road safety improvements any time soon – despite all the government PR and rhetoric!

More Road Safety campaign clips…