Commons Gate

Novice Drivers (HC 355-ii)

Transport Committee 14 Mar 2007

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Evidence given by Mr Robin Cummins OBE, Road Safety Consultant, BSM; Mr John Lepine MBE, General Manager, Motor Schools Association of Great Britain; and Mr Steve Grigor, Driving Examiners Branch Secretary, PCS Union,Mr Adrian Walsh, Director of RoadSafe, Dr Lisa Dorn, Director of the Driving Research Group, Cranfield University, Mr Ian Edwards, Director of Education, a2om Academy and Professor Frank McKenna, Professor of Psychology, School of Psychology, University of Reading

Q214 Mr. Eric Martlew: I think in answer to one of the earlier questions, an answer as to why there has been an increase, you said it was inexperience and immaturity. The logic of that to stop that happening would be to raise the age of when young people can start to drive or actually say that they have to wait a specific time, say they can get a licence at 17 but cannot pass their test until 18. What is your view on that?

Mr Cummins: We have looked at this and lots of people say that but I do not think the age is the thing, I think you would just push it further along the years if that was what you did, and from some of the experience abroad that is what happens. It is more about what you do with them in the training. At the moment there is not a structured approach in which you can take people through elements of learning, which may well make it a longer period which would have the effect you are saying, but other people would probably pass through that system a lot quicker. It is more about how you change the attitudes of young drivers and we are not doing that early enough, we need to be looking way back at schools. We need to sort out the attitudes. The first time they get with a driving instructor is when they are 17 and they have picked up all their attitudes and the way that they drive and things like that from sitting in the back of the car with parents, so by that time they have already formed opinions and views of what is right and what is wrong. For the purpose of learning to drive they do what they are told but as soon as they pass their driving test certainly young males, because they are the ones who are having accidents, go out and are not driving in a proper manner, especially in the evening on rural roads.

Mr Grigor: There is some evidence that the ability of young adults to process and deal with hazards is not fully developed until about the age of 25.

Q215 Chairman: I do not think Mr Lepine was suggesting that, was he?

Mr Grigor: I do not think so. I do not think anyone would suggest that we keep people off the roads until they are 25. That is the key point about the graduated licensing issue in that it addresses the risk factors involved in night driving, for example, and in driving with passengers, especially youngsters driving with teenage passengers. It specifically addresses those issues and removes those risk factors until a later point when they have got the experience to deal with those kinds of hazards.

Mr Hollobone: In your view, what is the biggest factor between young male drivers and young female drivers in their approaches to driving in the first year after passing their test?

Q216 Chairman: Mr Lepine, do you want to take your life in your hands!

Mr Lepine: I can only be rude to men and say it would simply appear to be the case that genetically young men are more inclined to risk taking than young women. In the figures there does appear to be some suggestion that the accident statistics for young women are also increasing but it is really about the bravado, the showing off, et cetera, that young men are liable to do.

Q217 Mr. Eric Martlew: On the issue of graduated licensing or whatever we have heard evidence that people from poorer families drive poorer cars. What would the cost of a graduated licence be? There is a danger, of course, that if we put the price of getting a licence up too much then people will not get licences at all and we will have the question of enforcement. What will be the difference in cost? How much does it cost now on average to get somebody through the test and what would be the extra cost?

Mr Lepine: About £1,000.

Q218 Mr. Eric Martlew: Now?

Mr Lepine: Yes. We are talking about an average number of about 45 lessons before somebody passes their test at about £20 and about £50 or £60 for a test.

Mr Grigor: I think you look at the cost increase depending on what flavour of graduated licensing you opt for. It need not necessarily put up cost because if you were to say, for example, that young drivers could not drive between the hours of 11pm and 5am the next morning, that would not put up the costs of learning to drive and acquiring a licence, and neither would the banning of carrying teenage passengers.

Q219 Mr. Eric Martlew: Driving on a motorway with an instructor would, would it not?

Mr Lepine: If I can just explain a bit more about the graduated licensing system we have talked about. After they have passed their test they have restrictions and those restrictions last for two years and if they wait two years it costs them nothing, but if they want to remove those restrictions then they might have to pay some money for the training.

Q220 Mr. Eric Martlew: The logic of your argument is that youngsters have got to abide by these rules but a lot of the youngsters when they do crash are breaking the law because they are going far too fast.

Mr Lepine: Not always.

Q221 Mr. Eric Martlew: No, I am generalising.

Mr Lepine: In very many cases it is not that they are exceeding the speed limit but they are going too fast for the circumstances. Most crashes are not speed violations, they are inappropriate speed. If I could just go back on one thing you mentioned about structured training to say we already have structured training, most driving instructors try and follow some sort of syllabus or structured training programme, the problem is young people and their mums and dads want them to pass their tests as quickly and as cheaply as possible, whatever they might say in focus groups. The truth of the matter is that put pressure on the driving instructor to allow them to take a test before they already. The driving instructor is a self employed person who knows that as long as they are not going to smash the car on the test or kill the examiner lets them take the test, and a sometimes they still pass because everything went well for them that day, but they are not ready for the test.

Q222 Mr. Eric Martlew: So there would be an advantage in a time period between when somebody gets a licence and someone passes.

Mr Lepine: With respect, I do not think there is any point in a time situation at all; it does not matter whether it is six months or nine months. In answer to a Parliamentary question last week Stephen Ladyman said that most people take 11 months to learn to drive now. The research shows that it is not the time that is important; it is what they do. So if we had a structured program of training maybe it would take, at a minimum, five or six weeks to do that. There is no need to spread that over 12 months, and if you put a time restriction on then many people will do the training in the last two months of that 12-month period, and it does not achieve anything.


Q231 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on that, are you saying, for example - it is probably easier in my constituency, Carlisle than most - that you would have a test in the urban area and then you would have another test where you would go round the country roads, is that what you are saying? The A74, the most dangerous road in Britain, that is the sort of thing you are saying, is it?

Mr Grigor: I do not have any detailed plans at this point to give you, but certainly the proposal that you put that you could examine people more in depth perhaps on A roads and country roads and fast dual carriageways and/or motorways is certainly a possibility.


Q268 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on that point, we have had evidence that the number of young people taking the test has dropped.

Mr Walsh: Yes, indeed it has.

Q269 Mr. Eric Martlew: But their aspirations are not being turned into taking the driving test?

Mr Walsh: Yes, and one of the reasons we believe - we do not know, but we believe - it is to do with the costs associated and the opportunities associated with what is a very crowded educational space around the age of 17. A lot of people appear to be deferring it. But it is a route to employment and it is seen by many people as a very important route to employment.

Professor McKenna: Before I answer, you invited a short statement, could I just make a short statement?

Q270 Chairman: Sure.

Professor McKenna: One issue is that people often frame effective measures for novice drivers and drivers in general in terms of restrictions of freedom, and that tends to make them rather contentious and controversial, instead of a preparation for their future performance. Even if you frame it in that rather contentious way the harsh reality is that those deprivations of freedom are effective. If we simply look at the history of effective measures, seatbelt legislation was controversial and is very effective; motor cycle helmets, controversial and effective; speed limits, safety cameras, et cetera, all of those areas, and drink-driving laws, they all apparently deprived people of these apparent freedoms and they are effective.

Q271 Chairman: Professor, you are pushing at an open door on that one.

Professor McKenna: Some of the measures that we would propose and we know are effective - night time restrictions, passenger restrictions for novice drivers - have been demonstrated to be effective, and likewise will be contested on exactly the same basis as all of these other effective measures have been contested.

Chairman: It is interesting that so far our witnesses have not chosen to make that point actually. I think that is a very interesting point, but it has not been part of the response of most of our witnesses, so it may be that we are getting used to being disciplined. Mr Martlew?

Q272 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just to carry on from that, do you think that raising the age of when people could learn to drive would be effective?

Professor McKenna: I think it would be, per se, in the sense that there is an age effect which is independent of the experience effect. Generally the evidence is that the experience effect is larger than the age effect. So the idea would be to combine both, so one would have it extended from 17 to 18 but have that extension being driven by additional supervised experience, so that you combine both the age effect with experience.

Q273 Mr. Eric Martlew: What you are saying is that you could still learn to drive at 17 but you could not take your test until you were 18?

Professor McKenna: Correct.

Q274 Mr. Eric Martlew: And during that time you would have structured training?

Professor McKenna: Correct.


Q289 Mr. Eric Martlew: One question I have asked everybody - because I think it is important and until we know the answer I am not sure we can come up with the solution - is why have things got worse in recent times? We have figures before us to show that crashes and deaths amongst young drivers are considerably worse over the last five years. Do you have any idea why?

Dr Dorn: There could be a number of reasons. It is extremely complex. There is more traffic congestion; you could argue that there are more fragmented families, that general levels of extroversion are going up ---

Q290 Mr. Eric Martlew: You have not research to tell us why?

Dr Dorn: As to why it could be going up, no.


Q304 Mr. Eric Martlew: I get the impression that you are in favour of restrictions on night driving for novice drivers and the restriction on the number of passengers.

Professor McKenna: Yes.

Q305 Mr. Eric Martlew: What about a reduced alcohol level for young drivers? Do you think that would be viable?

Professor McKenna: I think it is an issue. I do not think there is much solid evidence to demonstrate its independent effect, but it certainly would be signalling the right message to a group of very vulnerable road users.

Q306 Chairman: Is that a zero alcohol level?

Professor McKenna: Effectively.

Q307 Mr. Eric Martlew: There is silence from your colleagues. Is that because you are not quite confident about that?

Mr Walsh: We have a slightly different view on the night driving issue. We are not in favour of night restrictions; we are not in favour of any restrictions, we are in favour of better preparation and better understanding of how to manage the risk - a different approach, hopefully with the same result. One of the reasons we are not in favour of restrictions, particularly night driving restrictions, is that there are many rural communities, for example, where it would be highly restrictive to do that. There are many people who would find it very difficult finding work or indeed education if they were not able to drive at night or their night driving was restricted. So I think it is a very difficult area to go down, and we do not think it should be done unless it is very, very carefully measured and very carefully introduced, and it does need to be done with very, very thorough education and preparation.

Q308 Mr. Eric Martlew: It all sounds very worthy but some of the most horrendous crashes in my area have been at 11 o'clock at night with four or five youngsters in the car. You are saying that, providing the preparation is right, that should be allowed?

Mr Walsh: No, you should never allow horrendous crashes.

Q309 Mr. Eric Martlew: I think you are deliberately misunderstanding me.

Mr Walsh: Certainly not.

Q310 Mr. Eric Martlew: You are saying that you are of the opinion that with a novice driver, somebody who has just passed their test, you think that four or five youngsters, 11 o'clock at night, there should be no restriction on that?

Mr Walsh: No, I am not saying that at all, necessarily, that there should be no restriction on four or five youngsters in a car. There may well be a need to prepare them much better ---

Q311 Chairman: Mr Walsh, I think we heard you the first time but the reality is that laws are framed in fairly straightforward terms and if there is to be any effect on this group of young drivers it is clear that one of the most dangerous times is on rural roads in the evening and during the night. You have been asked by Mr Martlew, are you saying that that is a risk you are prepared to take because you must not restrict their freedom to move around in rural areas?

Mr Walsh: No, I am not saying that we think it is a risk that should be taken. What we say is that it is a risk that needs to be understood better and better education and preparation should be considered, not simply restriction on its own.

Q312 Mr. Eric Martlew: But you are not against restriction?

Mr Walsh: We are not against restriction per se, but we are saying that it should only happen if the other element of proper education and preparation is put in as well.

Q313 Mr. Eric Martlew: But if that was put in you would not need restriction, would you?

Mr Walsh: You may well still need some restriction, but the answer is we do not know yet.


Q322 Mr. Eric Martlew: Professor McKenna, I have got the gist that there is a division between you on restrictions but could you tell me how long you think these restrictions should be there for?

Professor McKenna: I would go for something like nine months, compromise on six and definitely not go lower than three.

Q324 Chairman: So you are not saying three months; you are saying nine months?

Professor McKenna: I am saying that is the absolute minimum that it is worth even considering.

Q325 Chairman: With a second test?

Professor McKenna: I am proposing this for once they have gone through a supervised training. I would go for a three-stage process. One would be an extended period of supervised driving because we know that that works from work in Sweden and elsewhere, and then move into an intermediate phase where the restrictions applied. Unsupervised driving is where the high risk is. When they are being supervised they are very low risk. Once we get into the unsupervised bit that is where we are looking at restrictions which I would say would be an absolute minimum of three months. If we go for less than that we are all wasting our time.

Q326 Mr. Eric Martlew: So what you are saying, for the sake of argument, is that if a mature person is there with them in the car then there would be no restrictions? Once they have passed their test there would be no restrictions on night driving or having four or five passengers? You would be happy with that?

Professor McKenna: Yes.

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