Commons Gate

Novice Drivers (HC 355-i)

Transport Committee 28 Feb 2007

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Evidence given by Witnesses: Ms Jools Townsend, Head of Education, Brake, Ms Brenda Puech, Campaigns and Communications Coordinator, RoadPeace, and Mrs Jan Berry, Chairman, The Police Federation of England and Wales,Mr Nick Starling, Director of General Insurance and Mr Justin Jacobs, Assistant Director, Liability & Motor, Association of British Insurers, and Mr Dominic Clayden, Director of Technical Claims, Norwich Union,Mr Paul Silverwood, President, Under 17 Car Club; Mr Neil Greig, Assistant Director, IAM Motoring Trust, Mr Andrew Howard, Head of Road Safety, AA; and Mr Edmund King, Executive Directive, RAC Foundation for Motoring.

Q21 Mr. Eric Martlew: The pass rate for males is several percentage points higher than it is for females, but it seems that male novice drivers are having more accidents than female drivers. Is this fact alone evidence that the test is fundamentally not good?

Ms Puech: That is certainly what RoadPeace believes. Too much reliance cannot be placed on the driving test because it is merely provides a snapshot of driving ability and technical competence.

Mrs Berry: I agree that that is the figure at the moment, but as it is with maybe licensing, there is a trend in the other direction. Whereas I think men were involved in more accidents, for young novice drivers, there is a trend for the women now to be increasing at a greater rate than the male young novice drivers.

Q22 Mr. Eric Martlew: On that point and beyond that, and perhaps Mrs Berry can answer first and the others afterwards, the number of young people who have licences is reducing and the number of young people being killed driving is increasing. What has changed and why?

Mrs Berry: I think the number of young people that have their own cars has changed. That might be a factor. There are more cars on our roads than is probably good for us. That might be another factor, and therefore the risks associated with that are greater. I do not know how much impact these computer games and that type of impact will have on it either. There are loads of different reasons why that could be the case.

Ms Townsend: I am not sure that I can answer for what has specifically changed.

Q23 Mr. Eric Martlew: There is a lot of car culture now amongst young people that was not there five or ten years ago?

Ms Townsend: I think the culture of boy racers, if you like, has been around for a while but it certainly does seem to be prevalent at the moment. The real issue for us is what we can do now to address the problem. Aside from looking at the process of learning to drive and passing your test, we would also like to see more road safety education and more particularly calling for road safety education to be a compulsory part of the national curriculum. The vast majority of young people reach the age of learning to drive with little to no understanding of the risks that they are facing and the strategies that they can take to reduce these risks.

Q24 Chairman: Ms Puech, do you have an answer to why they are going up?

Ms Puech: We have seen from amongst our members that a lot of fatalities are caused by unlicensed and uninsured drivers, so a lot of novice drivers, a lot of teenagers who are driving who are either in cars taken without permission or in stolen cars. That is the cause of a lot of fatalities, from what we see amongst our members. I could not say for sure whether that is linked to lack of enforcement and the decline in traffic policing, but it may be the reason.

Q25 Mr. Eric Martlew: That leads me on to my next question which is this. We have the statistics of the number of young drivers killed. Do we know how many of these had not actually passed their test?

Ms Puech: From anecdotal evidence, our members tend to be affected by novice drivers who are also unlicensed drivers.

Q26 Chairman: Mrs Berry, I ought to know this. Is it not possible to identify that certainly in a fatality? Is that not one of the things that the police check?

Mrs Berry: You would be able to know if the driver had a driving licence. That statistic must be available but I personally do not have that statistic. As Jools Townsend said earlier, this is not just about drivers who can be injured but about the accidents that they can cause to other people.

Q27 Mr. Eric Martlew: A lot of the evidence that you have given us is that we should increase the age when people can get a licence. That is fine, but if you find more and more people are driving without a licence, it defeats the objective to some extent, does it not?

Ms Townsend: I think there are other measures that we should be utilising to a greater extent to tackle that problem; for example, investment in more traffic policing and technology like automatic number plate recognition, which is proving a successful method of catching unlicensed drivers. In terms of uninsured drivers, perhaps part of the reason for the levels of uninsured driving is that we know that young drivers are twice as likely to make an insurance claim and their insurance claims are much higher, hence the fact they are paying much higher premiums.

Chairman: I do not want to go into that for a minute. We must try to get to the bottom of this.

Q28 Mr. Eric Martlew: We have a situation where we do not know why the number of young people being killed is increasing, even though the number of licence holders is going down. If we increased the age when people can drive, then there is a danger that people will drive without any instruction at all. Personally, I am in favour of giving them a learning experience of a year. Would you accept that in rural areas, like Cumbria, that would create some hardship? Would there be any argument for reducing the age when drivers or youngsters can start to learn?

Ms Townsend: Research shows us that age has a clear effect on crash risk, so that the older you are when you pass your test, the less likely you are to crash within a year of driving. In terms of reducing casualties, probably the safest option would be significantly to increase the driving age.

Q29 Mr. Eric Martlew: If we were all pensioners, it would be all right?

Ms Townsend: However, we acknowledge that there are of course social consequences to that and therefore it is not something that the Government is likely to look into.

Mr Scott: We are talking about two separate issues. There is an issue of people who are breaking the law and committing a criminal offence by driving without a driving licence. This, as I see it, is more about making sure that when people pass their driving test, they can get into their car and drive safely without being a danger to themselves or other road users. I agree with the comments about taking a year to learn to drive. I may be slightly biased because it took me various attempts to pass my driving test and certainly longer than a year but that might say more about my driving than the driving test.


Q39 Mr. Eric Martlew: On the issue of graduated licence, and you quoted the United States a number of times, what age do they normally start to drive in the United States?

Ms Townsend: I believe it varies.

Q40 Mr. Eric Martlew: Is it not 15 or 16?

Ms Townsend: I have a couple of cases here. In North Carolina, you can start the learning period at aged 15, so, yes, they do start earlier than we do. In Washington, I believe they can start learning at 16, so again it is slightly earlier than us, but I do not think that detracts from the impact that these schemes have had and there is scope for transferring similar schemes to the UK.


Q52 Mr. Eric Martlew: On that very point, are you saying that the problem is not spread right throughout the community, that there is a socioeconomic impact on this, that youngsters from poorer areas tend to drive more often more recklessly and are killed more?

Mrs Berry: I do not have any statistics on that.

Q53 Mr. Eric Martlew: Has anybody done any work on that? That would help the targeting, would it not?

Mrs Berry: I do not have the statistics to demonstrate that but some of those statistics must be capable of being accessed because we all collect data from a variety of different sources and some of the more effective community safety partnerships share that data in a far more constructive way and then they can work out where the target areas should be. It may well demonstrate that there are socioeconomic factors involved.

Mr Hollobone: I was trying to get to that point earlier. If you have somebody's postcode, age, make, type of vehicle and the registration number, given that the insurance companies are analysing this information in coming up with their premiums, if that were fed into the licensing system, you would be able to make a pretty good prediction, would you not?

Q54 Chairman: Is that realistic here because at the moment it seems to me we have enough difficulty getting the sort of information that is useful.


Q90 Mr. Eric Martlew: At the moment I tend to be agreeing with you on the idea of the graduated licence and perhaps a year's training period. The reason we are here is despite the fact that road accidents and road deaths are going down, in this particular group they are going up. Has anybody got any reason why that is happening? If we knew the reason we could perhaps tackle it in a different way.

Mr Starling: We do not know the reason. We know that fewer people are taking the test and we think that is partly because more people are going to university, but why there are particular behavioural changes we have not done any research into that as to why it is going up.

Q91 Mr. Eric Martlew: Does anybody else have any ideas?

Mr Clayden: I can only speculate from the anecdotal to say the feature comes to more young people getting into a car and driving at that period. If I look at our experience, that is when we see the fatalities happening. We look down the list of claims we have got and that is when the accidents happen and it is multiple occupancy.

Q92 Mr. Eric Martlew: So you are saying it is not more crashes or more drivers killed but more people in the car. Statistics say there are more drivers as well. It is still a mystery why it is happening, is it not?

Mr Starling: We have not done any analysis on that.

Q93 Mr. Eric Martlew: If we raise the age or if we make it more difficult, is it not going to lead to more young people driving without licences because it does not stop youngsters from driving but it stops them driving legally, does it not? Do you think that will be the case?

Mr Clayden: I think I said earlier it is a risk that would happen more, I am just saying you would have to manage the risk. The particular risk of uninsured driving is something that the Government is now tackling, so if you now go out uninsured you will get caught. The law has now changed so that you can get caught before you even get in your car. It is important that you tackle this across the piece, but tackling uninsured driving separately from what you have to do to get the road accidents down for young drivers.

Q94 Mr. Eric Martlew: The evidence only shows that car is uninsured, it does not say that the person driving it is insured, does it?

Mr Starling: The main thing you can do is you can pull it over and stop the driver, that is the key thing about stopping uninsured driving.

Q95 Mr. Eric Martlew: I am sorry, maybe I am not explaining it very well. A young man takes his mother's car to drive, he has not got a licence but the car is insured, the police will not pull that car over for not being insured, will they?

Mr Clayden: I guess one of the control mechanisms on that is if there is an accident in the car the insurance company will not pay for the repair of the car.

Q96 Mr. Eric Martlew: Right, so the mother is going to be very upset about it.

Mr Jacobs: The other thing to flag up in relation to that is the UK is one of only five out of the 25 EU Member States that allows people to pass their driving test at the age of 17, every other country, apart from Ireland, Austria, Greece and Hungary, has 18 as the minimum age for passing the test.

Chairman: What evidence is there that if that change came about here we would not get more people driving without licences and uninsured?

Q97 Mr. Eric Martlew: I will stretch that point a little further. The area I represent has a large rural hinterland and the public transport is very poor. If you raise the age to 18 this is either going to create great social problems for young people or mean that more of them are going to be breaking the law, is that not the case?

Mr Jacobs: I think it is about learning how they do it in other countries because if they can have 18 as the minimum age in other countries and minimise the social consequences then I am sure we could learn from how they do that and apply the same process here.

Q98 Mr. Eric Martlew: This is my final question, and I suspect you gentlemen may have the answer to this because of the way that you look at postcodes. Is there evidence that the number of accidents is spread across the socioeconomic range of the country but there are more accidents, serious accidents, from the poorer areas of the country? That would help us to target training or whatever.

Mr Clayden: I am not sure I would be able to identify poorer. What we do see is geographic differences in terms of ----

Q99 Chairman: You must. Come on, Mr Clayden.

Mr Clayden: No. The North-West has a feature of having a higher claims cost but what I do not know is whether you could identify that as being because people drive in a different way or have a higher propensity to claim.

Q100 Mr. Eric Martlew: I live in a part of the city where the crime rate is higher than in other parts, although it has a low crime rate throughout. My insurance would be higher because of that.

Mr Clayden: Yes.

Q101 Mr. Eric Martlew: Are you saying that you do not increase the insurance premiums of someone who lives in an area where you think they are more likely to have accidents?

Mr Clayden: No, no, I said the North-West is ----

Q102 Mr. Eric Martlew: I am talking about specific areas of a large conurbation.

Mr Clayden: Yes.

Q103 Mr. Eric Martlew: So you do?

Mr Clayden: We can do that. Like house insurance we can get it down to a relatively ----

Q104 Mr. Eric Martlew: So you actually charge higher premiums in an area of the city where you think there are likely to be more accidents?

Mr Clayden: Higher claims costs.


Q131 Mr. Eric Martlew: I am concerned because some of the things you are saying about young drivers driving old cars, that has always been the case and you made the point yourself, Mr King, that you drove an old car. I think I drove an A35 which was probably totally unsafe, especially the way I used to drive it. You said there had been a change in attitude to driving by youngsters. Have you got any evidence of that?

Mr King: Two points. May I just clarify the old cars point. I was not saying that was the reason why young drivers have or do not have accidents; I was saying if they do have an accident the severity of that accident will be worse because the car is less safe. That is a fact.

Q132 Mr. Eric Martlew: It has always been the case, has it not?

Mr King: Yes, absolutely.

Q133 Mr. Eric Martlew: That does not explain the increase in the numbers of young people.

Mr King: No.

Q134 Mr. Eric Martlew: What is the reason?

Mr King: I think the reason, to go back to the basics I talked about, is if you look at things like drink-driving and seat belt wearing, what we have found over the last four or five years after years of those things decreasing is they have started to increase again. I think one of the reasons for that is that education campaigns are not having the effect now they had ten or 15 years ago. Ten or 15 years ago it really did change social attitudes amongst young people. I think this is where we have to be much more subtle and much cleverer in getting the message across. Young people today are not watching ITV at 8.30 at night before Christmas when Cliff Richard comes on singing about mistletoe and wine, that will not get through to young people today; maybe it did ten or 15 years ago. This is where we have to use multimedia to get through to them, things like MySpace and viral messages. We have to adapt because the figures clearly show this is why they are dying. If they are dying for drink-driving it is not because they have not had a graduated test, it is because the message has not got across. If they are dying because they have not got seat belts on it is nothing to do with the driving test, it means that they are less risk averse. All I am saying is that we should not forget those fundamental things that we were successful at changing perhaps ten or 15 year sago.

Q135 Mr. Eric Martlew: Mr Silverwood, do you agree with that? You obviously deal with a lot of youngsters.

Mr Silverwood: To a great extent, yes. The statistics are bearing out the fact that a lot of people are dying because they are no longer clunk-clicking every trip as we used to when I started driving. There are other issues here that we have not touched upon but I cannot evidence them. We are seeing a more laddish, laddette-ish binge drinking culture than we had 20 years ago and that may also be having an effect. When they are learning to drive on the road they are cocooned, they are not having to get from A to B in a short space of time because of social or business pressures, they are also driving within the limit and they have got somebody sitting behind them. As soon as they pass their test we take all those restraints away and on the roads every day they see some appalling bad driving and they think, "People are getting away with this, why can't I?" There is also a feeling of invincibility as soon as you pass your test. While we are talking about cars, yes their cars are older now but they are not as old as the car that I learned to drive in which had cable brakes. You had to anticipate half an hour before you wanted to stop in that thing! You did learn the appreciation of hazard awareness much earlier.


Q151 Mr. Eric Martlew: Obviously you are doing a tremendous job, and I wish you were operating in my neck of the woods, but do you take the average youngsters to learn to drive or is it self-selecting?

Mr Silverwood: They come from all walks of life. We have got some very old very cars, very modern cars, fast cars and slow cars, a complete mix. We have got single parents, families, as diverse a catchment as you could have. The one thing that unites them is they really care about their kids and they recognise that probably the most devastating thing that is going to happen to their youngsters is being killed or seriously injured on the roads and if they can do something to prevent it they will put that effort in. I have got a lot of admiration for the parents of the members, they turn up virtually every weekend for nine months of the year and help their youngsters how to drive.

Q152 Mr. Eric Martlew: From that, it is likely that their attitude will have spilled down to their children as well.

Mr Silverwood: Yes.

Q153 Mr. Eric Martlew: You are probably getting a selective group of youngsters, in fact, and you would expect that these youngsters would have fewer accidents.

Mr Silverwood: You could argue that. I think I would turn that on its head and say if it were not for the club these youngsters could be at serious risk.

Q154 Mr. Eric Martlew: If you want to come up to Cumbria I would be very happy for you to come. You can see what I am getting at?

Mr Silverwood: Yes.

Mr Greig: What the IAM are finding is getting one or two really keen youngsters involved is quite crucial and they can make a big impact. We are putting together a young driver network. Because normally the IAM membership is quite old, when we do get hold of a younger person and put them through advanced driver training they promote it themselves, they go out and talk to other young people. It is very difficult for a middle-aged IAM member to go out and talk to someone who cruises around in a souped-up car, for example, but it is a lot easier for someone who is 19 or 20 to do that. It is amazing the impact that one or two really keen people can make. Through advertising and preaching you are not going to reach the majority who are closing their ears to the message but if you actually send someone out there of their own age, driving a similar car ----

Q155 Chairman: Then again Mr Martlew's question actually applies, does it not? What we have established is that parents who bring their children to you or encourage their children to come to you, because as you say they have to commit quite a large period of time, are the ones who are already convinced. The ones you are talking about who are taking the cars and belting around the council estates are not exactly convinced of the need to behave in a responsible fashion or they would not be nicking the cars in the first place.

Mr Greig: They can be reached if you choose the right medium. As Edmund suggested, whether it is using new media, things they use themselves, or sending someone of their own age there, you can actually reach them.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB