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Time to stop blaming young drivers

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Young drivers do take risks while driving. The NSW government works with many sporting bodies to spread road safety messages like Towards Zero and Slow Down. One partnership is with the Western Sydney Wanderers. This is particularly designed to reach men 17 to 29, who are more likely to be injured or die in a crash.

Young drivers take risks

Recent research shows young drivers do the same things as other drivers – particularly their parents. But they are at greater risk of harm by what, when, how and why they drive:

  • what – older vehicles with fewer crash-avoidance and crash-protection features (young drivers who share Mum and Dad’s car take fewer risks)
  • when – driving in riskier circumstances, such as at night or when tired; driving after drinking alcohol because designated driver drank even more (and encouraged the young driver to speed)
  • how – may speed, not wear seat belts for a short trip, and make simple driving errors (copying parents perhaps) after passing the driving test; parents don’t know how their kids behave when licensed to drive independently in their own cars
  • why – young people change the way they drive depending on how they feel emotionally; there may be no public transport.

Failure of system

Rather than blaming crashes entirely on young drivers, it is possible crashes are a failure in the system in which they drive? For example, a fatal crash may relate to any of these factors:

  • Government policy, acts and regulations, local government laws
  • Parents
  • Schools, driving instructors, vehicle manufacturers
  • Young drivers and others in the vehicle or on the road
  • The road and the vehicle.

Road safety campaigns only touch on a fraction of this system – the bad behaviour of the young driver. They also focus a lot on speeding. While people of all ages speed, young people’s brains are not fully formed and they may not have the skills to get away with it.

Driving with skill

These campaigns are good at telling young people what not to do – and the tragic consequences – but do not help young people drive more skillfully. Young drivers receive a lot of criticism but perhaps they have not been trained properly for the task.

Unlike more experienced drivers, young people lack a library of driving incidents in their memories to draw on, to anticipate a potential hazard on the road.

The licence test is primarily about following rules, such as how far you can park from a corner or driving at 40kmh in a school zone. As one instructor said: “The licence test is not a test of safe driving. It’s a test of some road law.”

Young people refusing licences

At the same time, young people are not so keen to get a licence as they once were. In 2016 around four out of five 17 to 20 year olds and eleven out of twelve 21 to 25 years held a licence. This is a decline since 2012:

  • The 21 to 25 group had the biggest decline, 3.4% down from 2012
  • The number of 17 to 20 yr olds holding a licence is down 1.7% from 2012.

In Britain, there is a startling 20% drop in the number of under-25s learning to drive, and some attribute this to skyrocketing insurance costs. A 2011 US survey found 46% of 18-24s would choose internet access over car ownership, compared to 15% of baby boomers.

For cash-poor young people, driving is not worth the money – or the risk.

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Corrina Baird

Writer and Researcher, greenslips.com.au

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years in financial services and over 9 years with greenslips.com.au, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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