For people learning to drive, there are many skills that must be acquired. In addition to navigating different hazards and managing distractions, new drivers must also learn to drive safely in conditions where visibility is poor, such as night. But the crash rate is still too high.
A study sponsored by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development found that young or inexperienced drivers were more likely to be slower at anticipating hazards at night. In addition, novice drivers were also found to be more at risk of experiencing acute sleepiness when they were behind the wheel both at night or in the early hours of the morning.
As such, a number of states have regulations in place to limit the amount of unsupervised nighttime driving for learners.
The dangers of nighttime driving
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 1.2 million people are killed due to a road accident each year, with car crashes the leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15-29.
Roads and Maritime Services’ (RMS) Geared reports that Friday and Saturday nights represent the most dangerous nights for young drivers.
“It’s a lot more difficult at night to predict problems before they arise – such as that dog that’s wandering close to the road or that staggering pedestrian who seems out of it,” says Geared.
The South Australia government’s My Licence reports that 16 and 17 year old drivers on a provisional (P) licence crash seven times more at night than they do during the day. The department recommends ensuring that your windscreen and headlights are clean, as well as minimising in-car distractions.
In New South Wales, drivers under 25 years on a P1 licence are not to carry more than one passenger under the age of 21 from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. – a condition which Geared explains is designed to reduce the risk of distraction at these vulnerable hours.
Restrictions working to protect young drivers at night
New research from Monash University in Victoria in conjunction with Harvard University has found that by enforcing certain restrictions on teen drivers behind the wheel at night, crashes could be significantly reduced.
The study examined the effect of a new law changing the terms of the Massachusetts graduated driver licencing program implemented in the U.S. in 2007. The changes prohibited under 18s from driving unsupervised at night, as well as enforcing penalties for those who did so against the law.
After implementing the new law, it was found that the night time crash rate for 16-17 year olds fell by almost 30 per cent. In addition, the age group’s overall crash rate was brought down by 19 per cent, with a 40 per cent reduction in crashes that were either fatal or resulted in serious injury.
“In the US, and similarly in Australia, drowsy driving is responsible for about 20 per cent of fatal crashes,” says Professor Shantha Rajaratnam from Monash University.
“Young people are strikingly overrepresented in sleep-related crashes. That’s because they are more vulnerable than older people to performance impairment as a result of sleep deprivation, particularly during the night time when the biological clock in the brain is signalling sleep.”
Professor Rajaratnam suggested that the next area of focus for the study should involve the 18-19 year old age bracket.
Young drivers also need to be aware that fines, accidents and insurance claims can impact the cost of comprehensive and CTP insurance for many years to come.