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In the UK drivers can get their provisional driving licence and get behind the wheel (with appropriate supervision) on the roads at just 17 years old. Depending on how quickly they pass their driving tests they can be driving within a few weeks of receiving this licence.
We wanted to put together this article to help young drivers, their families and other road users help them stay as safe as possible.
Why Are Young Drivers Less Safe?
The Department for Transport’s (DfT) reported road casualties for 2019 showed that there were 6,443 17 to 19 year olds involved in car accidents of which 3,296 were casualties. In the same year, there were 14,638 20 to 24 year olds involved in reported accidents and 7,487 were casualties. These age ranges do not have the highest number of people involved in accidents however the percentage of those involved that have casualties is the highest with both age groups at 51%.
There are a number of reasons that young drivers are considered one of the least safe demographics when it comes to road safety, and when they are involved in accidents they are more likely to have casualties.
The most obvious is that they can have very little training and real-world driving experience before passing their driving test and then being allowed onto the road unsupervised. This lack of experience can mean that they aren’t as aware of all of the potential hazards they may face and appropriate reactions to them. Not having as much exposure to potential hazards also means that they are more likely to poorly assess the situations which could lead to a more dangerous situation for them and other road users.
Another reason that younger drivers are considered to have a higher potential for unsafe driving behaviours is because of their brain development. The pre-frontal cortex does not reach full maturity until the mid-20s and as this is the part of the brain that is responsible for rationality it is involved in decision making which is critical when driving. Additionally, the limbic region, which is associated with emotional response, is overactive between the ages of 15 and 24 and the heightened limbic activity makes younger drivers more likely to be influenced by peer pressure and exhibit thrill-seeking behaviour, both of which can lead to dangerous situations.
Peer pressure is something that many teenagers experience in all aspects of their life including their driving. The most common pressure young drivers face from their friends is to speed up. Speeding is incredibly dangerous for those in the car and other road users as well – take a look at this article for more information on reducing speed if it is a concern for you.
Other examples of peer pressure in the car include:
- Overtaking slower vehicles
- Playing loud music so you’re unable to hear potential hazards
- Using mobile phones and other devices
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Splashing pedestrians when the road is wet
Having a group of friends in the car can also be distracting for a driver, especially as their passengers might not drive themselves and so won’t understand how their movements or loud noises could pull the driver’s attention from the road.
Today there’s very few people who don’t have a smartphone but traditionally it’s been assumed that younger generations are the ones who need to have their phone with them and are more likely to use it whilst driving. Using a phone or other mobile device whilst driving is illegal and it’s illegal for a reason – not paying attention to the road means you’ll miss potential hazards as well as becoming a hazard to other road users putting yourself and them at risk.
Driving when over the legal alcohol limit or under the influence of legal and illegal drugs is also a criminal offence as it impairs your cognitive abilities making you an unsafe driver. Younger drivers are thought to be the most likely to get behind the wheel in an impaired condition because they
A lot of the behaviours explored above aren’t exclusive to young drivers but they are considered to be the age range most likely to be at risk of them. A lot of these risk factors will also apply to drivers who learn later in life or who have developed poor driving habits over the years that they have not corrected.
How Can Young Drivers Stay Safe?
Some rules that all drivers should be following, and that young drivers should be aware of that they might not be taught as part of their practical experience include:
- Always keep to the speed limits and go slower if there are additional hazards such as poor weather.
- Always wear your seatbelt and make sure that all passengers under 14 are wearing theirs and in appropriate car seats where needed.
- Adjust your headrest so it sits behind your head and not your neck to avoid whiplash if you’re involved in an accident.
- Keep the windscreen clean and free of any dirt as this can directly block your vision and can cause glare on sunny days which further impedes your vision.
- Get any chips or cracks repaired as soon as you spot them to avoid them becoming any larger and more of a hazard for you.
- Hold your steering wheel with both hands on either side of the wheel (either three and nine o’clock or four and eight o’clock).
- Make sure that junctions are clear before you move off, and even if the light is green then make sure there aren’t any drivers coming from other directions that are ignoring the lights
- Reduce distractions in the vehicle, including turning your phone onto do not disturb, securing loose items that could move around the compartment and asking passengers not to distract you.
- Always check any medicine that you are using to ensure you are able to operate a vehicle whilst using it, and if it does impede you in any way then you should not get behind the wheel.
- You should also not drive if you feel impaired in any way after drinking alcohol, even if you are below the legal limit.
- Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, allowing more room in poor weather, reduced visibility or unpredictable behaviour from them.
- Keep up with your car maintenance and servicing schedule to ensure wear and tear doesn’t become a risk for you.
Additionally, younger drivers can take additional steps to keep themselves safe as new drivers including:
- Use P plates, like the L plates you are required to use when driving these alert other drivers that you are less experienced and so they will generally give you more time and space as well as be more cautious around you.
- Be careful when driving late at night as this is traditionally when other road users will engage in reckless behaviour such as driving impaired or speeding. Additionally, pedestrians and cyclists may not be wearing reflective clothing which makes them more difficult to spot.
- Don’t bow to peer pressure to engage in reckless behaviour, if you think you’ll be likely to feel the pressure from a group of your friends then try to limit the number of passengers in the vehicle.
- Have a voluntary code of practice with your parents or guardians that put in place safe practices and best procedures for you to follow that help keep you safe. This might include restrictions on driving at night, the number of passengers and engaging in high-risk behaviours.
- Take a pass-plus course for additional practical experience and to help you feel comfortable and confident with situations you might not have encountered yet.
Additionally, some insurers may place restrictions on young drivers or require them to have a black box. The black box will monitor your driving in particular the braking, acceleration, time the vehicle is used and speed, which are four areas of concern for new drivers. Having one of these boxes installed not only reduces young drivers’ insurance but also encourages better driving habits as they can be penalised by their insurer for bad habits.
Young Drivers on the Motorway
A driver with a provisional licence cannot drive on the motorways and currently in the UK there is no requirement for drivers to be supervised when they first go onto the motorway.
Driving on the motorway for the first time can be daunting especially if you’ve not had a lot of experience with them as a passenger either.
Part of the pass-plus courses available will cover driving on the motorway to help drivers become more confident on them and a safer driver all around. If you are concerned about driving in adverse weather, at night, on dual carriageways and motorways or rural roads then a pass plus is a great, and relatively short at six hours, course to help you feel more comfortable.
A pass-plus course can also help reduce the cost of insurance which can be pretty high for young drivers.
If you don’t want to complete a pass-plus course, then we recommend that when driving on the motorway for the first-time drivers take a passenger with them who is: a driver themselves, knows that stretch of road well, someone who remains calm and who they trust so that they have a supportive presence in the car who can advise on the potential hazards.
What Can Other Road Users Do to Keep Young Drivers Safe?
If you see a person with an L or P plates then allow them extra space and time – they won’t be an experienced driver and might have poor or late hazard reactions so if you give them extra space and time this will allow you time to act appropriately if they do.
Don’t give in to road rage if you are driving behind one, this could worsen the situation as they might react inappropriately to your anger and you’ll be more prone to emotional reactions.
How to Keep Your Young Driver Safe
- Let them take a pass-plus course so that they have more experience with all road and weather conditions.
- If you know it will not be stressful for either of you then you can go out in the car with them to help build their confidence while on the road and reassure yourself of their ability.
- Have a voluntary code of practice with them establishing your own agreement on best practices that they will follow and the consequences if they break them.
- Recommend they take out an insurance policy with a black box as it will help lower the premiums, encourage good driving habits like gentle acceleration and keeping to the speed limits, and provide an additional incentive to drive safely.
- Make sure they know what to do if they’re involved in an accident.