BBC News

New driver restrictions 'would save lives'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

image captionThe number of UK road deaths has fallen to a new low.

Newly qualified young drivers should be banned from night-time motoring and carrying passengers of a similar age, Cardiff University researchers say.

They said such "graduated driver licensing" for those aged 17-19 could save more than 200 lives and result in 1,700 fewer serious injuries each year.

Similar schemes already exist in New Zealand, Australia and parts of the US.

But motoring organisations say the limits - which could last up to two years - would be difficult to enforce.

Meanwhile, the Tune into Traffic campaign group has highlighted the dangers of listening to music on MP3 players and iPods while driving and walking.

The research will be presented at the World Safety Conference, which will hear from other experts on how road safety could be improved.

While road deaths have now fallen to an all-time low, 2,222 people still died on the roads last year.

Experts at the London conference will argue this figure can be reduced even lower with more restrictions and greater awareness of risks.

The Cardiff University study was compiled after analysing road accident data from 2000 to 2007.

Research suggests one in five new drivers crashes within the first six months. The Cardiff team says that by targeting them with graduated driver licensing, many accidents might be avoided.

Cutting the UK's accident rate would also save the economy £890m, the team estimates.

Dr Sarah Jones, who led the research, said: "Graduated driver licensing works in other countries and there's no good reason why it wouldn't work here."

She said restrictions on new drivers could be in force for as long as two years and could also include a total ban on alcohol. She said a debate would have to be had over whether to limit the restrictions just to young drivers or all new drivers.

But the head of road safety at the AA, Andrew Howard, suggested while there would be benefits to graduated driver licensing, they could be outweighed by the disadvantages.

He said it could penalise those who work at night and need to drive, while police may struggle to crack down on those who flout the rules.

"It would give totally the wrong signals to introduce new laws aimed at young people and then not enforce them - many would feel that all motoring laws could be broken," he added.

Music 'danger'

A spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents also cast doubt over whether the scheme could be properly enforced.

She said she wanted to see more evidence about how it would work in the UK, adding that improving education and awareness with further training for new drivers might be more beneficial.

University of London experts will also put the case for more 20mph zones, arguing it could help reduce injuries - particularly in deprived areas.

Their research will show that those in deprived areas are twice as likely to be killed or injured than those in affluent areas.

The Department for Transport said most new drivers wanted to be responsible, but a small minority put themselves and others at risk.

It said a new independent driving element would be added to the current test, allowing candidates to demonstrate their ability to be safe in more realistic situations.

A spokesman said: "We are considering what other steps we can take to improve safety for new drivers.

"In doing so, we need to ensure we do not unfairly penalise responsible young people who rely on driving to get to work or college."

Tune into Traffic will stress the dangers of listening to music while driving and walking.

Tune into Traffic's Manpreet Darroch, who has helped produce an advert warning about the risks of being distracted by music, said: "This is of particular importance as the usage of iPods and MP3 players has significantly increased and young people's lives are being destroyed unnecessarily."

BBC News website readers have been emailing their reaction to this story. Join the debate: Do you deserve a licence to drive?

I have just passed my test. With all the money I have forked out to pass it I at least think I should be allowed to drive my car whenever, and with whomever, I like. This will surely push insurance prices up for new drivers. Michael Watson, Glenrothes

As a motorcyclist you have to be over 21 to ride a machine of more than 33bhp. Maybe a similar rule should apply to young and newly qualified drivers. James Allen, St Leonards, Sussex

I think calling to ban night driving is just silly. What is needed is more testing situations in driving tests. Having passed just over two years ago I can say that I no longer use any of the methods I was taught. This is because they are outdated. The whole testing area needs modernising. Ryan, Coventry

Drivers should not be so young. I learnt to drive at 26. I found it easier, quicker and my immediate insurance was normal - not hiked sky-high because I was not an adult. Giving some 16-year-olds I know a driving licence and a car is simply putting a dangerous weapon into their extraordinarily immature hands. Esther Phillips, Billericay

I am 20 and was hit and run by an uninsured driver. This law should be in place for scumbags like that, not for decent people. Ricky McDonnell, Coventry

Another possibility could be like in Germany, where by law one has to do a number of night hours and even hours on a motorway with an instructor before being allowed to drive alone. Being an experienced driver in the day does not really prepare you for driving at night other than general awareness. Duncan Hill, Darlington

My daughter lives in New Zealand. They have new driver rules that do not allow them to drive after 8pm through to 6am. If the rules are broken there are serious consequences including loss of licence. The probation period can be reduced if the new driver completes a comprehensive driving course. Murray Croft, Northampton

My son drove at 17. His two brothers are disabled and he's a godsend to help with journeys with them, and is very sensible. His girlfriend also drove at 17 and travels to her job to a supermarket and often works until 9 or 10 in the evening and gives a colleague a lift home. Make every driver aged between 17 and 20 do a plus test which includes night driving and motorway driving, and extend the period of the test. My son did it and really enjoyed it - it gave him confidence. I can understand totally that the emergency services are destroyed when they have to fish young people out of cars but legislation won't work. Francesca Lambert, Southampton

I started my apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce cycling to work. When I was 18 I was put on nights and drove into work in the dark and drove home in the dark. One of the best ways to stay alert after a long night shift was to put a good song on and turn it up. I was advised to do this by a number of policemen I know - it has always worked. Liam Maguire, Derby

Overseas response

Interesting, no-one seems to have mentioned drugs. Youngsters partying until five in the morning, then driving home. The figures are there - just check accident logs for early mornings. Bertie Somme, Molde, Norway

I recently moved from the UK to Perth, Australia, and have been learning to drive here. In Western Australia drivers must complete 25 hours of supervised driving over six months after they have completed their practical driving test, they are then awarded their licence. I feel as a new driver in my mid-twenties that although I am capable of driving a vehicle, I am not experienced enough to know what to do in every situation that I might come across on the roads. As frustrating as it is that I am not an independent driver yet, I know that this policy could save lives. Sheryl, Perth, Australia

As a qualified driver, I believe restrictions are never a good solution. It's not more difficult to drive by night, but people must be informed about the dangers of tiredness, and night patrols should be organised to prevent drink-driving and to tell people that it's time to have a nap, especially on the motorway where we are likely to fall asleep. Moreover, it could be a good idea to impose driving lessons by night, otherwise, people will never learn. Deleu, Lille, France

If safety is in mind it could be better achieved by making driving licences expire every two years and by giving theory, practical and physical tests. Arabiantxn, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Terry Jones describes the French system. My daughter is in that scheme. She has been driving accompanied since she was 16 after she had her 20 compulsory lessons. She cannot take her test until she is 18 and she has driven at least 3,000 km. She keeps a log and has driven at night, in snow, on motorways and in all varied conditions. She has to take three check tests during her training process. I, as her accompanying driver, also have to attend some theory lessons. When she passes her test she has a restricted speed limit for two years. Dave, Martigne, France

What about making it obligatory that all learner drivers undertake so many hours of night time driving lessons with a registered instructor before they can take their test? Matt Lock, Sandhausen, Germany

More on this story

  • Graduated driver licensing overseas