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UK House of Commons
Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Department for Transport
19 July 2007


  1.1  This evidence is submitted for the Transport Committee inquiry into novice drivers. It provides an overview of the issues that the Committee has indicated it would like to investigate. The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) has been fully involved with the preparation of this Memorandum.

  Young drivers are involved in too many road casualty accidents. They present a complex challenge; but not all young drivers are novices: many of those whose fatally bad driving is reported in the news are old enough to have passed the test some years previously. Most young people take a responsible approach to learning to drive and gaining experience; others flout basic safety rules, including a minority who drive unlicensed and un-insured. Road safety issues also cannot be considered in isolation, but are part of a wider social concern about anti-social behaviour and its causes.

  1.2  There has been a series of changes in the driver training and testing regime in recent years. Changes to the test are described in para 4.2 below. The Pass Plus scheme was launched in 1995 (see para 6.4). The New Drivers Act was brought into force in 1997 (see Section 8). DSA's Driver Record logbook was launched in 2002 (see para 5.5).

The Government's Road Safety Strategy

  1.3  The Government published a road safety strategy in March 2000, Tomorrow's Roads: Safer for Everyone.[1] We are committed to review this strategy every three years. Young drivers are a main focus of the second of these reviews, currently in progress. This will also reflect a new strategy being developed in parallel by the DSA, Driving Safety Forward, which has as a main focus the continued improvement of the training and testing system so as to improve further the safety of young drivers. This work is in progress and a report will be published in the first quarter of 2007. The Department will share conclusions from this work with the Committee as soon as it is completed.

Previous inquiries

  1.4  The Committee's predecessor, the Environment, Transport and Rural Affairs Committee (ETRAC) conducted an inquiry on Young and Newly-Qualified Drivers: Standards and Training in 1999.[2] ETRAC's 19th report includes the Government's written evidence to that inquiry in May 1999; and the Government's response to the report was published in March 2000.[3] ETRAC made a number of specific recommendations, including the introduction of a Hazard Perception Test as part of the computerised theory test, which have been implemented. In relation to after-test monitoring of younger drivers, ETRAC rejected suggestions for a probationary driver scheme, and a proposal that the Pass Plus scheme be made mandatory.

  1.5  The Committee has also recently published a report on Roads Policing and Technology: Getting the Right Balance,[4] on which the Government will respond very shortly. The Committee also touched upon the issue of younger drivers in its recent report on the Driver and Vehicle Operator Group and The Highways Agency,[5] to which the Government responded on 6 November 2006.

A Structured Approach to Learning to Drive

  1.6  Following the ETRAC report, the Government published a wide-ranging consultation document, A Structured Approach to Learning to Drive[6] in March 2002, which included a wide range of proposals for restricting newly-qualified drivers. The Government's decision following this consultation was published in April 2004.[7] The Government concluded that the focus should be on positive improvements to the training and testing regime. It decided against further statutory regulation of learners and newly-qualified drivers.

Road Safety Act 2006

  1.7  The Road Safety Act[8] includes provisions which the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) will use to overhaul the present system of approved driving instructor (ADI) registration.[9] There were several Parliamentary debates on newly-qualified and other young drivers during the passage of the Bill, including a debate at Committee Stage in the House of Commons on 23 April 2006.

Novice drivers and young drivers

  1.8  The scope of the inquiry is assumed to be limited to drivers and to exclude motorcyclists, on which the Committee have a separate inquiry. Only one of the Committee's questions relates to young drivers in general (see section 3 below). Otherwise, its questions relate to learners, and novice drivers who have held a car driving licence for less than two or perhaps three years, irrespective of their age.

  1.9  A minority of young drivers who could be considered novice drivers are unlicensed—either because they are not yet 17, or because they have chosen not to qualify or have become disqualified from driving or who have had their licences revoked. Others fail to comply with provisional licence restrictions. These are a very high risk group, but would not necessarily be touched by the specific proposals on which the Committee has invited evidence.

Numbers of novice drivers

  1.10  DSA holds figures by age and gender for those who take and pass the practical car driving test. This table gives a summary of these:

Drivers aged 17-19
Drivers ages 20-25
Pass (thousands
Pass rate (%)
Pass (thousands
Pass rate (%)


  1.11  The DSA figures show that some 700,000 people pass the practical car driving test each year, of whom about 600,000 are under 25 years old, and nearly 400,000 are under 20. A significant proportion of novice drivers are therefore not in the age range (17-25 years) commonly used to cover young drivers; conversely, many of those in that age range are likely not to be considered novice drivers, since they will already have had several years' experience of driving after passing the driving test.

  1.12  The DSA figures also show that the total number of young people taking the driving test has risen in recent years. Numbers fluctuate from year to year according to the number in the age group. However, the National Travel Survey suggests that the proportion of people aged 17-20 holding a licence increased from 27% in 2004 to 32% in 2005, after a steady downward trend from the peak of 48% in 1992-94.

Casualty accidents involving young drivers

  1.13  The Department's accident statistics are published annually in Road Casualties in Great Britain—Annual Report.[10] Two further tables are annexed summarising casualty accidents since 1992, for accidents involving a driver under 25, with separate figures for accidents involving a driver aged 17 to 19. It should be noted that the reports on which these are based do not record how long any driver has held a licence.

  1.14  In 2005, there were 1,077 fatalities in road traffic accidents involving a driver between 17 and 25, of whom 377 were drivers in that age group. For accidents involving a driver aged 17 to 19, there were 465 road fatalities (including riders), of whom 149 were drivers in that age group. The reports on which these figures are based do not attribute fault in the casualty accidents.

  1.15  The tables below compare the rates of fatalities per billion kilometres among car drivers (including taxi drivers) over and under the age of 25. The former are very much higher, and on average over the period 1996-2005 the fatality rate for young car drivers has also increased. Between 1997 and 1999 the rate decreased due to the number of fatalities falling faster than vehicle kilometres (vkms). The rate then increased up until 2003. This was due to the number of fatalities increasing in every year from 1999 to 2005 and vkms falling from 1999 until 2003. The increase in vkms in both 2004 and 2005 then caused the rate to fall in these years.

  1.16  The Department for Transport publishes the Highways Economic Note No.1[11] each year estimating the values for prevention of road casualties and road accidents for use in the appraisal of road schemes. The update for 2005 values was published on 12 January. The average value of prevention per fatal casualty in Great Britain in 2005 prices is £1,428,180. The average costs per fatal accident were £1,644,790. However, the Department does not attempt to give estimates for particular age groups. Treasury guidance[12] states that differences in wealth should be ignored for equity reasons and consequently national average valuations of preventing fatalities should be used. The valuation of prevention of fatalities is based on a consistent willingness to pay (WTP) approach, which according to Treasury guidance should assume that "everyone at risk from accidental death should be treated as if they were of average income and wealth, producing average net output, of average age and expressing an average level of risk aversion". The estimates do not represent actual costs incurred as the result of road accidents. They are the cost-benefit values and represent the benefits which would be obtained by prevention of road accidents. The value of prevention of a casualty consists of: loss of output; ambulance and hospital costs; and human costs, based on WTP values, which represent pain, grief and suffering to the casualty, relatives and friends, and, for fatal casualties, the intrinsic loss of enjoyment of life over and above the consumption of goods and services. The higher costs for accidents are due to non-casualty specific costs, such as damage to vehicles and property and costs of police and insurance and administrative costs; and also because on average more that one casualty is involved per accident—for example in 2005, a fatal accident on average involved 1.10 fatalities, 0.36 serious casualties and 0.54 slight casualties.

International comparisons

  1.17  Casualty rates associated with young and novice drivers are a concern all over the world. OECD have recently published an international review of this issue,[13] which gives comprehensive information including comparisons between different countries. This shows that a number of countries including the UK with advanced policies on road safety nevertheless have cause for serious concern about young drivers. In European countries, there are lower young driver casualty figures, but these are associated mainly with young people having—as yet—less access to, or use of vehicles.

2.  To what extent novice drivers are more at risk of being involved in a collision than other drivers, and whether this is primarily a consequence of age, inexperience or a combination of both?

  2.1  The accident risk found among novice drivers is partly attributable to both age and experience, but the following paragraphs also show a strong association with high risk behaviour in general and an associated low regard for basic road safety rules.

  2.2  Many reports[14] highlight a higher risk of casualties involving young male drivers than more experienced drivers. The picture for young female drivers is significantly different. It also does not follow from the high figures that all young drivers (males in particular) are an equally high risk. Several studies[15] have assessed the relative importance of experience and age. The risk of accident involvement decreases substantially during the first year of driving for new drivers of any age; the initial accident risk, while still considerable, is less the older the novice driver is.

  2.3  The Government's Memorandum for ETRAC in May 1999 cited a major long-running research study undertaken by TRL Ltd, the Cohort Study of learner and novice drivers (Cohort I).[16] This study has been repeated (Cohort II) and results are planned to be published in the Summer of 2007. These studies have examined the methods used and experience gained by a sample of learner drivers and related this to their performance in the practical driving test, and to their experiences during the first 3 years as a novice driver, including any accidents in which they have been involved and offences they have committed.

  2.4  Preliminary analysis of the Cohort II data suggests that, for drivers of all ages at the time of passing the L-test, the reduction in accident liability which they enjoy between their first and second year of driving post-test may be as high as 42.5% as a result of the gaining of experience alone. Age itself may be much less significant. The accident liability for a driver passing the test at age 17.6 (the average age of a 17-year old test passer) is only 5.5% more than for drivers passing the test a year older. This age-effect reduces as age increases, so that for 20-year olds, the reduction in accident liability for drivers passing a year later is 4.3% and by age 25 this has fallen to 2.9%.

Accident data

  2.5  In 2005, for the first time, the Department collected data on contributory factors to road traffic accidents. Several of these factors are attributed to drivers up to the age of 25 in much higher proportions of cases than for older drivers. These factors were reported for the following proportion of drivers in casualty accidents—

Driver 17-19
Driver 17-25
Driver 26+

Loss of control
Careless, reckless or in a hurry
Travelling too fast for the conditions
Slippery road (due to weather)
Exceeded the speed limit
Impaired by alcohol
Aggressive driving

  2.6  Accident statistics collected by the Department include the age of vehicles involved. The following average figures show that novices tend to have been in older cars, which are likely to have fewer safety features—

Drivers aged 26 and above5 years 6 months
Drivers aged 17 to 256 years 6 months
Drivers aged 17 to 197 years 1 month

  2.7  The accident figures show that young drivers' vehicles tend to have smaller engines. The average engine capacity for drivers aged 17 to 19 was 1,366 cc; for drivers aged 17 to 25 was 1,479 cc, and for drivers aged 26 and above was 1758 cc.

3.  Do young people's attitudes to driving have a significant impact on the collision rates of young and novice drivers?

  3.1  A proper attitude to the responsibilities of driving is crucial. It will be reflected in a considered approach to learning not only the practical skills driving requires but the development of safe behaviour, and a regard for road traffic laws. Attitudes to driving, and road traffic law and the law more generally, are formed before young people are old enough to drive. Many young people see the freedom to drive as a means of gaining respect and some see it as a means of relieving boredom.

  3.2  In 2002, TRL Ltd published a report for the Department, In-depth Accident Causation Study of Young Drivers,[17] which considered 3437 injury accident cases reported by the police, including 1296 in detail, involving drivers aged 17-25 years. A central theme of this study is the extent to which young driver accidents of all types can be said to be the result of "attitudinal" factors as opposed to "skill deficit" factors. A large percentage of their accidents are purely the result of two or three "failures of attitude", rather than skill deficits.

  3.3  In 2004, the Department commissioned a more detailed investigation of the change in the trend for fatal car accidents since the late 1990s. Preliminary analysis suggests that young drivers in fatal accidents, especially those under 20 years, were nearly 12 times more likely than those aged 35-65 years to have been at fault. Males were found to be more liable to deliberate risk taking actions than females, with males more likely to exceed the speed limit or drive too fast for the conditions. Females were more likely to have been ignorant of the correct speed limit or to be travelling too fast for the conditions rather than deliberately speeding.

  3.4  Over three quarters of fatal accidents involving drivers under 20 were judged to be speed related. For the 20-24 year age group it was about two thirds, dropping to below half by the age of 30 years. These accidents show high levels of speeding, alcohol involvement and recklessness. 68% of occupant fatalities in the 16-20 year age group were with drivers who were slightly older (mean age 21 years), who were speeding or who were being deliberately reckless and racing (36%).

  3.5  The Department's accident statistics (see para 1.14) show that the highest rate of breath test failures at accidents is 5.6% for male drivers aged 20-24 years. The equivalent figure for females is 1.6%.

  3.6  30% of fatally injured occupants (of all ages) were not wearing a seat belt. Wearing rates are particularly low among young drivers (17-29 years) with 40% of those killed not wearing a seat belt. The proportion of fatally injured drivers wearing a seat belt increases with age from about 29 years. Seat belt wearing is lower, especially among young males, at night. Over a third of those killed at night were not wearing a seatbelt compared with under one quarter of those of the same age killed during the day.

  3.7  There is also some evidence that if a driver has been drinking or not wearing a seatbelt, it was likely the passengers were doing the same. The younger the passenger the less likely they were to be wearing a seatbelt. In 2005 there were 188 passenger deaths under the age of 18 years. In the rear seat about half the young males and females killed had been wearing a seatbelt during the day but this dropped to 11% for males at night and 33% for young females. In the front seat, the proportions for both were about 80% during the day but dropped to 75% for males and 65% for females at night (Broughton and Sexton).

Offending by young drivers

  3.8  A key measure of attitudes is compliance with relevant regulations, in this case road traffic laws. The following paragraphs demonstrate the possible extent to which accidents are linked to serious driving offences. The strong connection is important for any proposals linked to additional legal regulation of learners and novice drivers. Bad driving by young people cannot be considered or tackled in isolation from the wider social context.

  3.9  The Home Office published a research study (No 206) in October 2000 on The Criminal Histories of Serious Traffic Offenders,[18] which looked at how far those who commit serious traffic offences are normally law-abiding members of the public or are likely to be involved in other types of crime, by examining the extent to which anti-social behaviour on the road is linked to other criminal activity, and how any such links might be exploited.

  3.10  The study of three types of serious traffic offender (the drink driver, the disqualified driver and the dangerous driver) revealed that many offenders from each group had committed mainstream offences (violence against the person, burglary, robbery, theft and handling, criminal damage, drug offences). Serious traffic offending was found to be predominantly a male activity, and relatively few females are involved.

  3.11  The Cohort I study found a relationship between novice drivers who commit driving offences and those who have road traffic accidents.[19] Overall, in the first year from passing the test, 42% of those who had received a fixed penalty notice or summons had also been involved in an accident, compared with 18% of those who had not. In the second year, the proportions were 26% and 12% respectively, and these figures dropped to 21% and 11% in the third year.

  3.12  The most recent Home Office statistics for road traffic offences are for 2004. The Supplementary Tables[20] include (at Table 17) an analysis by age for findings of guilt at Court which separates drivers by gender and age. This Table shows that 88% of these cases involved men, with much higher proportions of men for some of the most serious offences, such as causing death or bodily harm; dangerous driving; theft and fraud; and a range of offences including for example driving unsafe vehicles for work.

  3.13  The proportions of convictions involving drivers under 21 are also given in this Table. The following table shows for selected offences the numbers of those convicted who were 21 and under and percentage in each case of the totals convicted for the offence—

Causing death or bodily harm99 out of 384 (26%)
Dangerous driving2,251 out of 6,633 (34%)
Driving etc after consuming alcohol or taking drugs 11,635 out of 96,238(12%)
Careless driving5,332 out of 30,495 (17%)

  3.14  Drivers under 21 (not all novices) are over-represented for all of these offences (which do not of course include those killed by their own dangerous driving). The Department's accident statistics (see para 1.14) show that young drivers (under 25) are heavily over represented in drink drive accidents per one hundred thousand licence holders and per one hundred million miles driven.

Young people driving unlicensed and un-insured

  3.15  Table 17 in the Supplementary Tables also gives figures for driver licensing, and insurance offences, with the following proportions of convicted drivers under 21—

Driving licence related offences71,740 out of 303,393 (24%)
Vehicle insurance offences79,409 out of 359,730 (22%)

  3.16  Again, persons under 21 are heavily over-represented. Persons under 21 are also responsible for just over two thirds of convictions for theft of motor vehicles.

  3.17  Young male drivers (17-29, by no means all novices) are about three times more likely to be involved in a crash than all drivers, but unlicensed young male drivers are between 3.25 and 11.6 times more likely to be involved in a crash than all drivers. For all unlicensed drivers the increased risk is between 2.7% and 8.9%. There is some indication that unlicensed driving may be increasing amongst young males. There are indications from several sources, although little firm evidence, that at least 100,000 young people, predominantly male, may be driving without a licence.[21]

  3.18  Those who gain a criminal record for driving while disqualified, unlicensed or un-insured are likely to have life-long difficulty obtaining insurance; and may therefore be permanently excluded from the legal driving population. Many have become high-risk serial road traffic offenders.

  3.19  The Department published a report in November 2003, Research into Unlicensed Driving.[22] This estimated that there are around 6,300 casualties annually as a result of crashes involving an unlicensed driver and around 900 of these are killed or seriously injured. Not all crashes involving unlicensed drivers are detected and not all are prosecuted, so it is possible that the numbers represent an underestimate. The report found, by comparing crashes involving unlicensed drivers with all crashes, that—

    —  they typically involve a higher severity;

    —  they involve a higher number of casualties and passengers are significantly over-represented;

    —  the age of these casualties is lower and there are more males;

    —  a higher proportion occurs on unclassified roads, and where speed is restricted;

    —  the greatest number of crashes tend to occur at the evening peak, but weekend crashes are over-represented, as are those late in the evening or early morning; and

    —  there is a higher proportion of motorcyclists involved in crashes involving unlicensed drivers compared with crashes involving licensed drivers.

  3.20  As for the unlicensed drivers involved in these crashes, the report found that—

    —  they tend to be male;

    —  they are younger (average age 28 years) than the average crash involved driver (average age 37 years);

    —  they are significantly more likely to produce a positive breath-test result; and

    —  there is an unlicensed driver effect over and above the increased crash risk of being a young driver.


4.  How effective are the existing practical and theory driving tests at identifying safe driving skills and behaviour? Has the hazard perception test achieved its objectives?

  4.1  The Government's strategy aims for—

    —  constructive improvements to the training and testing process to ensure as far as possible that newly-qualified drivers are safe drivers;

    —  developing incentives to encourage positive attitudes, and the responsibility associated with a licence to drive;

    —  deterrent enforcement of existing road traffic rules which some young drivers (mostly males) are flouting, too often with fatal consequences.

  4.2  The regime for learners and novice drivers has been made more rigorous in recent years. A theory test was introduced in 1996, which is now screen-based. Changes were made to the practical test in May 1999 so that there is more time for driving rather than set manoeuvres. The extra time means that, where practicable, candidates are taken on to a high speed road and are expected to drive up to the limit, subject to road conditions. Hazard perception testing was introduced in November 2002.

  4.3  The UK driving test is widely accepted to be among the most demanding of any country. The OECD report on young drivers (para 2.2) has detailed information about the approach to driver training and testing in other countries. As part of DSA's work described in para 4.10, they have commissioned a study on the driving test, which will include additional information on international comparisons.

  4.4  In 2005, TRL published a report for the Department entitled Novice Driver Safety and the British Practical Driving Test.[23] The authors discuss evidence about the way learners prepare for the test, and the reasons for the present pass rate (then—and now—about 43%). The report notes that candidates choose when they come for test, and that many appear to do so at a time when their own level of competence is such that they have only a moderate probability of passing; and their performance is inconsistent.

  4.5  The European Commission's DG TREN financed what is known as the TEST project, which was managed by CIECA, the international driver testing authority. The final report was produced in 2005.[24] The project covered six countries: Austria, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Great Britain. The main aims of the project were to:

    —  determine to what extent the duration and location of the practical driving test for category B allowed the requirements in Directives 2000/56/EC and 91/439/EEC to be met and to consider whether the tests were covering all requirements of the directives;

    —  assess the homogeneity in the driving test in the 6 countries involved in the project and in the different test centres within each country;

    —  to assess how well the road safety needs of novice drivers are being met through the current practical test and, if necessary, develop recommendations to improve the status quo.

  The findings confirm that the driving test in Great Britain compares favourably with those of other countries studied, and already incorporates many of the specific recommendations. The report does find, however, that current driving tests are not yet incorporating the results of research conducted in recent years, which recommend introducing more behavioural elements into the driving test and focussing less on only vehicle control.

Theory and Hazard Perception Test

  4.6  The following table shows the pass rates for the theory test and hazard perception test. The pass rates are high, and much higher than for the practical test pass rate.

Pass Rate
Pass Rate
Full Theory
Test Passes
Full Theory
Test Pass

14 Nov 2002 to Mar 2003
Apr 2003 to Mar 2004
Apr 2004 to Mar 2005
Apr 2005 to Mar 2006
Apr 2006 to Nov 2006

  4.7  At 3 December 2006, there were nearly 200,000 provisional licence holders who had held a theory test certificate for more than a year. 47% of these had taken and failed at least one practical test, and 15% had a first test booked. 38% had neither booked nor taken a practical test. Approximately 3,000 theory test certificates expire each month before the holders have taken a practical test.

  4.8  The Department does not yet have an analysis of the effectiveness of these new elements in the test, although research carried out prior to implementation indicated the potential of hazard perception testing for improving novice driver safety. One of the objectives of the Cohort II study is to evaluate the impact which the introduction of the hazard perception test has had, and these findings will also be available in the summer of 2007.

  4.9  These additional elements of the driving test are intended to encourage people to incorporate theory and hazard perception in their driving training and the Cohort II study seeks to establish the extent to which this is happening. It would seem that many learners treat them as separate, preliminary items and practise for them mainly on computer products which they can use at home rather than in association with their driving instructor.

Driving Safety Forward

  4.10  Ministers have asked DSA to become more involved with drivers throughout their driving career rather than simply at the driving test. As part of its new strategy, Driving Safety Forward, DSA intends to look at—

    —  the knowledge, skills and aptitude that constitute competence for safe drivers;

    —  creating and disseminating road safety education resources;

    —  enhanced content for the theory test;

    —  fuel-efficient driving assessment;

    —  an education pack for learners with an enhanced log book;

    —  new qualification arrangements for driver trainers;

    —  continuing driver education programmes; and

    —  support for older drivers.

  Para 1.3 above explains that this work is linked to the current review of the Government's road safety strategy, on which a report will be published in the first quarter of 2007.

Young people's perceptions

  4.11  As part of the work described in para 1.3, the Department commissioned a study of young drivers' perceptions of good driving and the practical driving test.[25] This study finds that young people are making a distinction between learning to pass the test and learning to drive, and between the law and "lore" of the road. Evidence of this sort suggests that extensive work is needed on pre-driver education and other early influences, as well as on driver training prior to the driving test, so that more young people develop a safe attitude to driving as well as the practical skills on which driver training currently concentrates.

5.  Could changes to driver education and testing help to make novice drivers safer?

  Such changes might include:

    —  new pre-test requirements, such as a minimum number of hours' or miles' driving, or a minimum period between obtaining a provisional licence and taking the test;

    —  compulsory professional tuition; or

    —  additional training for motorway driving or night driving.

  5.1  Changes to driver, and pre-driver, education and driver testing could make novice drivers safer, and the programme of DSA work summarized in para 4.10 has that aim. Each of the specific proposals identified by the Committee were discussed in A Structured Approach to Learning to Drive (see para 1.8 above).

Minimum learning periods and compulsory professional tuition

  5.2  The Cohort I study found that the mean age for participants who passed the test was 22.4 years. The mean time to learn and pass the test was 10.6 months. Getting practice as well as having formal lessons has added value. This may be because it offers experience in a wider range of vehicles and driving conditions. Where family cars are used, experience may include carrying passengers which might not typically arise in driving lessons. Participants in the Cohort I study who failed the test had had a significantly lower mean figure for hours of practice than those who had passed.

  5.3  The Cohort I study found as many as 98% of respondents took at least some professional instruction. A preliminary analysis for Cohort II has an even higher figure of 99.5%. The mean time spent on formal lessons among participants who had passed the test was 43.8 hours, and their mean hours of practice were 17.9 hours (including those who had no practice). This means that an average learner may have had over 60 hours' driving experience when they reach their practical test.

  5.4  The OECD report cited at para 1.17 above includes information about other countries where there is compulsory tuition and a minimum learning period. Some other European countries only allow learners to drive with a professional instructor. It is common in the United States to specify minimum hours of practice, although it is not always clear how this is supervised. Many of these regimes do not appear to require more practice than the average learner in Great Britain already chooses to have.

Driver Record Logbook

  5.5  DSA promotes a Driver Record, a logbook used by learner drivers and their instructors. Some instructors have their own versions. The aim is to ensure that the learner and instructor take a structured approach to learning and gaining experience in each of the competencies which are assessed in the practical driving test. A research project (due to report at the end of 2007) is investigating the extent of use of the Driver Record, and the influence it has on the level and nature of pre-test driver training and experience, and on driving test performance.

Motorway Driving

  5.6  The Government does not agree that newly-qualified drivers should be excluded from driving on motorways, although some learners are clearly not yet sufficiently competent to be allowed to use these roads. The need for learner drivers to be prepared for driving on motorways has been addressed by increasing the length of the practical driving test among other things to ensure that more test routes include dual carriageways and other higher-speed roads. Learners should therefore practise on such roads before they take the test. A Structured Approach to Learning to Drive cited research indicating that novices do not have a higher proportion of their accidents on a motorway, leading to the conclusion that motorways do not present a particular problem for them. All-purpose roads, where the risks are higher, are of more concern for novices. Any new driver seeking accompanied motorway experience can undertake specific training such as the Pass Plus course.

Night Driving

  5.7  Learner drivers should practise in the dark, and the Driver Record (para 5.5) makes express provision for this. Accident numbers are especially high for 17-19 year olds between 9pm and midnight. This may be related to exposure. There is likely to be a strong connection with the kind of behaviour and risk taking likely to be associated with their other activities at those times. Factors such as alcohol, fatigue, speed and peer-pressure contribute to young driver accidents at these times. These are bigger risks than those associated simply with driving in the dark.


  Graduated licensing schemes involve the phasing-in of driving privileges. Typically, a gradated licensing scheme imposes additional restrictions on new drivers either for a fixed period of time after passing their test or until a second test is passed. Restrictions in a graduated licensing programme might include:

    —  a lower speed limit;

    —  a lower blood-alcohol limit;

    —  restrictions on the number of passengers who may be carried; and

    —  restrictions on night driving.

  6.1  Each of the specific proposals identified by the Committee were discussed in A Structured Approach to Learning to Drive (see para 1.8 above). The Government has not proposed additional legal restrictions on newly-qualified drivers. Experience is a matter of development, but it cannot be right for the passing of the test to leave substantive questions about readiness to drive. The provisional licence is there to provide a secure environment in which learners can reach the right standard.

  6.2  Three main arguments are advanced for graduating licensing schemes such as those described by the Committee. They are said to reduce the exposure of novice drivers; they may moderate the behaviour of bad young drivers; and they are used in some other countries for one or both of these purposes.

Gaining Experience

  6.3  It is important that all drivers gain experience of the full range of conditions for which they have been licensed, and that the process should only be delayed or restricted if this is necessary or proportionate. The function of the practical test must be to see if candidates are ready to drive unrestricted. There are risks associated with driving at the prevailing speed limits, or with passengers, and at night; but these activities are not inherently dangerous and it is desirable that novice drivers continue to gain such experience. Some people learn to drive specifically because they need to carry people (including children) about, or to drive at night—for example to get work. It would be difficult to justify penalising such to control bad driving by a minority.

Pass Plus

  6.4  Pass Plus is a training scheme for new drivers designed by the DSA, with assistance from the instruction and insurance industries, which encourages new drivers to take additional training in areas where they may need experience such as on motorways and at night-time. It was introduced in November 1995. In 2005-06, 107,122 took part in the scheme; that is 13.2% of new drivers. Training is delivered by registered Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs). Some insurance companies offer premium discounts to newly-qualified drivers who have certificates for completing a Pass Plus course. The Department let a research project in January 2006 to explore how the Pass Plus scheme, and its take up by newly qualified drivers, might be improved. This project is due to be completed in December 2007. It is seeking ways of influencing the attitudes and behaviour of novices and getting them to evaluate their driving, and think about their own safety and that of others for whom they are responsible as drivers.

Enforcement of Additional Controls

  6.5  Restrictions of any kind on any particular class of driver have to be enforced to be effective. They cannot be left to self-enforcement, even if it is thought that this would be effective to a degree for safer drivers who are most likely to comply. The drivers for whom this sort of control is conceived as a restraint are the most likely to behave badly and to infringe road traffic—and indeed other—laws. Their bad driving behaviour is by no means confined to the first two or three years from passing the test, assuming they even have—or have retained—a driving licence. Such controls do not touch high-risk, including unlicensed, drivers. The Government believes that enforcement effort should focus on those who disregard the rules already in force.

Other Countries

  6.6  Graduated licensing schemes with the kind of restrictions identified by the Committee are not generally found in European Union countries, but are widely adopted in North America, and also in Australia and New Zealand. Information on this is available in the recent OECD report on young drivers (see para 1.17). It is evident from this report that, whatever benefit may have accrued from such controls in these countries, they still have a problem with novice drivers at least as serious as in this country, even when the controls are at their most restrictive. These countries also have a minimum age for learning to drive, and holding a full licence, is lower than 17 years. In some instances, it is as low as 15.

Lower Alcohol Limits

  6.7  A European Commission recommendation on road safety measures includes a 20 mg alcohol limit for young drivers. Some countries, such as Sweden already have such a limit. It is evident that a minority of young drivers drive in excess of the present limit, and that serious crashes result. The Government does not see that lowering the limit just for novice drivers will tackle that problem; or accept that new drivers should have a lower limit than other people. It might help form good habits, but it would be wrong to create a perception that young people may increase their alcohol consumption as they become more experienced drivers.


Would there be any benefit in changing the minimum age at which a provisional or full licence may be obtained?

  7.1  The minimum age for acquiring both a provisional licence and a full licence is at present 17. The OECD report cited at para 1.17 includes information about driving ages in other countries. There are a number of other European countries in which the minimum age for learning to drive is higher than 17.[26]

  7.2  A Structured Approach to Learning to Drive (see para 1.8 above) included discussion of the driving age and the Government decided not to change it. It considers that improvements to the driver training and testing regime are a more constructive way to achieve the benefits which a change to the driving age might achieve.

  7.3  A Structured Approach to Learning to Drive noted that only about 25,000 drivers a year, some 4% of the total, pass the test less than six months after obtaining a provisional licence, and that about 29% of the total pass before they are 18. The figures for 2005-06 show an even lower 24.2%. In other words, the great majority are at least 18 when they pass the test.

  7.4  Raising the minimum age just for a full licence would allow learner drivers more time to practise with an instructor or accompanying driver before driving on their own. Extending the period in which only a provisional licence is available would allow more time for learners to practice, but they would not necessarily do so. It is not a general rule that learners practise and take lessons throughout their learning period, and there are many reasons for them not to do so.

  7.5  Making young people wait to get a licence would reduce the number of accidents involving licensed drivers because the youngest would be excluded from driving legally. It would have a significant adverse impact on those who are prepared to drive responsibly and need their own transport for access to work and education. It would have no impact on the most dangerous minority who choose to drive unlicensed.


  Drivers face disqualification and re-testing if they acquire six penalty points during the first two years after taking their test. Could further, similar provisions for the different treatment of novice drivers who offend be introduced?

  8.1  The New Drivers Act 1995,[27] brought into force in 1997, requires the Secretary of State to revoke a full driving licence if the holder reaches six penalty points within two years of it being issued. The object was to provide a new sanction especially for drivers while they are within two years of passing a driving test to deter them from behaviour likely to lead to offence-related accidents. Points earned as a learner count, but only when more are awarded against a full licence. This is simply because the sanction bites on a full licence and can therefore only be activated by a penalty awarded once the driver has one. Revocations can be triggered by action at a Court or by a Fixed Penalty Notice Office (FPNO).

  8.2  About 15,000 licences are revoked each year under this Act. DVLA records suggest that half of all revocations are linked to driving un-insured (for which the penalty includes six points), and about a quarter to speeding offences. The balance is made up of assorted road traffic and vehicle defect offences. There is quite an age range among those who lose licences in this way but the great majority are young men. Figures for June 2005 to May 2006 show that, out of a total of 14,988 revocations, 77% were males 25 and under; and 35% were males under 20.

  8.3  A recent review of the records of revoked licences suggests that only about half of the drivers concerned have recovered their full licence by passing another practical driving test. This suggests that a substantial proportion of those caught by the Act may be driving unlicensed. If these continue to drive, they are all also un-insured.

  8.4  Novice drivers are eligible for speed awareness and driver improvement courses, where available in the same way as others convicted of the same offences. Courses are conditionally offered as an alternative to fines and penalty points. They have to be alternative disposals to provide an incentive to take the course. It is not police policy to offer a course to anybody who would otherwise be awarded points which trigger a disqualification or revocation: a course might be offered to a novice driver caught speeding who has no points, but not to one who has three already—they will be offered three more points, which will trigger a revocation. Courses would not be offered to novice drivers caught driving un-insured, as the penalty for this offence includes six penalty points.

  8.5  The Act aims to incentivise novice drivers to obey road traffic legislation, by making it easy for them to lose a licence. Steering those at risk of revocation towards training courses might have the benefit of keeping them within the licensing system, provided they did not re-offend and breach the six point limit.

15 January 2007

1   available on-line from the DfT website- Back

2   HC 515-October 1999. Back

3   Cm 4631. Back

4   HC 975-31 October 2006. Back

5   HC 907-27 July 2006. Back

6   DTLR-ISBN 1 85112 515 9. Back

7   available on-line from the DfT website- Back

8   Road Safety Act 2006 c Back

9   c49 (see Section 42 and Schedule 6) Back

10   2005 Annual Report published by the Stationery Office Sept 2006-ISBN-10: 0-11-552773-9 Back

11 Back

12   Managing Risks to the Public Back

13   OECD/ECMT report Young Drivers-the Road to Safety (2006)-ECMT Publications ISBN 92-821-1334-5; Back

14   RoSPA-Young and Novice Drivers' Education, Training and Licensing (2002); Association of British Insurers-Young Drivers: Reducing Death on the Roads (September 2006) Back

15   see especially Estimating the Effects of Age and Experience on Accident Liability Using Stats 19 Data (Maycock 2002) published by the Department for Transport in Behavioural Research in Road Safety XII. Back

16   Cohort study of learner and novice drivers: reports are available on TRL-Part 1: Learning to drive and performance in the driving test (1992) (TRL Report RR 338); Part 2: Attitudes, opinions and the development of driving skills in the first 2 years (1992) (RR372); Part 3: Accidents, offences and driving experience in the first three years of driving (1995)(PR111); Part 4: Novice driver accidents in relation to methods of learning to drive, performance in the driving test and self assessed driving ability and behaviour (1997) (TRL Report TRL275). Back

17   available from TRL's website-TRL Report TRL542 Back

18   available on-line at; see also summary in Home Office Briefing Note 5/00 at Back

19   Cohort study of learners and novice drivers: Part 3, Accidents, offences and driving experience in the first three years of driving (TRL-Project Report 111 (1995)) ISBN 0968-4093 Back

20   Offences relating to motor vehicles-England and Wales 2004-Supplementary Tables ISBN 1-84473-874-4 Back

21   Noble, B., (2005) Why are some young people choosing not to drive?-Proceedings of the 23rd European Transport Annual Meeting. Back

22   available on-line at- Back

23   available from TRL's website-TRL Report TRL 652. Back

24   Towards European Standards for Testing CIECA (Brussels) (2005)-ISBN 90-76408-12-12 Back

25   The Good, The Bad and the Talented-available on-line at Back

26   Council Directive 91/439/EEC of 29 July 1991 on driving licences sets a minimum age of 18 for cars drivers, but Article 6(2) allows a derogation for countries such as the UK which have a lower limit. Back

27   The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 (c 13) Back

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