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Analysis: Ban on newbies driving at night may not be enough

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With a new night-driving ban for new drivers on the horizon, E&T analysed data on driving accidents and found that other measures, including increased vigilance around drunk driving and mobile phone use behind the steering wheel as well as more attention for young drivers in specific areas, may also help to reduce accident rates.

A new joint review into road safety launching later this year has been announced by the Department for Transport (DfT) to address the rate of road accidents. It includes plans to prevent novice drivers motoring around at night, since every fifth driver is involved in an accident within a year of passing their driving test.

With some backlash from critics such as The Automobile Association (AA), which warned that "excessive safety measures could become an unnecessary burden for motorists", E&T investigated how solid the idea of banning young drivers from roads at night really is. Findings suggest that young drivers should be closely observed for other reasons; policymakers and producers of the DfT review should be interested in studying young drivers more broadly. 

With a high proportion of young drivers also being new drivers – the number of new drivers under the age of 29 accounted for around 44 per cent in 2018/19 – they are at higher risk of suffering crashes and therefore deserve more attention. 

The numbers of drivers involved in an accident fell slightly over the past few years, and noticeably between the ages of 18 and 24, while a hick-up existed for drivers aged 30 where the number of accidents actually slightly grew. This shows a lack of progress for drivers aged between 25 and 30 – as well as for those aged between 51 and 66, another group that may require further investigation.

More specifically, high-risk groups would include the "overconfident newly-qualified young male drivers" who deserve particular attention, according to Joshua Harris, director of campaigns for road safety charity Brake.

Age is also a factor in accident figures among drunk drivers. Younger drivers report higher rates in being behind the steering wheel while over the limit. The period 2017/18 presented a particular outlier for 20 to 24-year-olds. 

In accident surveys, the evidence suggests that younger drivers are more likely to be classified as drunk when tested. The highest share of young people (under 29) that failed breath-tests among all car drivers involved in car accidents was found in the East Midlands. 

DfT invested in the development of roadside breathalysers, which will enable suspected drunk drivers to be tested at the roadside, without the burden of going to the police station for a test. This could save time and money, and the reading can also be used in court.

Handling of mobile phones while driving can lead to accidents, too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, DfT statistics show that young people are most likely to use their phones while driving, with nearly one in 20 doing so. For those between the age of 17 and 29, the rate is nearly twice as high as for those aged between 30 and 59. 

 

There is also a difference between the amount of night-drivers that were involved in an accident and those that occurred during the day. Noticeably high numbers of night accidents were found within London boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, Newham and Islington

Undoubtable progress to reduce the number of accidents has been made within the past decade, though. The proportion of younger fatalities in 2017 amounted to just 39 per cent of those recorded 10 years earlier, in 2007. More recently, the number of fatalities in those aged between 17 and 24 in reported road traffic accidents declined only slightly from 299 in 2016 to 279 in 2017, however this is in part due to a declining trend in the population group.

There is a lot the review could look at in terms of young novice drivers, and it is true that the DfT did not only consider the ban for novice night-drivers – Road Safety Minister Michael Ellis stated that it will also show what more can be done to improve road safety. The system could also feature restrictions such as a minimum learning period and not driving with passengers under a certain age.

Graduated licensing schemes – previously criticised over the potential to restrict young people from accessing education and employment – are by no means new; they are already common practice elsewhere, for example in New York and California in the USA, Ontario and British Columbia in Canada, and New South Wales and Victoria in Australia.

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