Another week, another headline about a teenage car accident. As new and inexperienced drivers, it’s no shock that teenagers make up a large proportion of road traffic accident victims. While this could be down to the learning process, sometimes reckless behaviour and a lack of respect for the road are to blame – something that has led to calls to increase the minimum driving age to 18 in the past.
Would an increase in the minimum driving age help teenagers become better drivers? With ‘Votes at 16’ becoming an increasingly popular topic, it’s an important question to raise, and while it’s not likely to be popular with the younger generation – could raising the driving age to 18 make our roads safer?
Getting your driving licence in the UK
The current process for getting your driving licence in the UK is pretty straightforward. You can hold a provisional driving licence from the age of 17, which you get by filling out a form and proving your identity for a small fee.
Next, you undertake driving lessons either with a qualified instructor or an adult who has over 21 and has held a full driving licence for three years. Lessons include learning to drive along different roads, learning manoeuvres as well as the Highway Code.
At any time during the learning process, a learner can take their theory test, which features multiple choice questions and a hazard perception test. Theory test pass rates are falling, which is an indication that the test is getting harder, and some of the hardest theory test questions could stump even the most experienced drivers. A theory test must be completed for a driver to pass their practical test.
Once you’re confident that you can drive and have an excellent knowledge of road safety, you can then take your practical driving test. The practical driving test lasts for around 40 minutes and includes an eyesight check, questions about car safety and a test of your driving. You are allowed up to 15 minor faults during your driving test – if you have any more than 15 or you commit a major fault, then you will fail the test.
After passing your test you will be able to exchange your green provisional licence for a full pink one, and you can apply for further licences for different vehicle types such as a motorbike if necessary.
Driving at a young age
As there is no minimum lesson requirement or minimum distance driven before you can take your driving test, learners can become drivers shortly after their 17th birthday. Many teenagers learn to drive off-road long before they turn 17 and therefore could pass their test days or weeks after their birthday, putting them at the younger end of the driving age scale.
While the majority of teenagers show responsible driving behaviour, there are of course exceptions to this. Young drivers can be overconfident in the physical aspect of driving, which means that they might be less perceptive of hazards – which is where accidents can occur. Insurance providers are well aware of this risk, and premiums are higher for drivers under the age of 25 as a result. While there are things that young drivers can do to reduce the cost of driving, insurance premiums are continuing to grow for this age group.
As well as being inexperienced on the road, young drivers have been shown to display riskier behaviour. Road safety charity Break has published research showing that young drivers are more likely to speed, overtake blindly, drive while under the influence of drugs and alcohol and are less likely to wear seatbelts. This sort of behaviour means that accidents are just waiting to happen.
Is increasing the driving age the solution?
Young drivers make up 1.%% of the driver population, but they are involved in 9% of fatal car accidents in the UK. These statistics are a cause for concern, and many solutions have been proposed to tackle the safety of younger drivers.
In October 2013, the Transport Research Laboratory published a paper outlining the different recommendations that could see radical changes to the driving licensing system and ensure that drivers are more qualified and experienced before they become full licence holders. Some of the recommendations include:
- Increasing the driving age to 18.
- Being issues a probationary licence upon test completion
- Learners undergoing a minimum driving lesson requirement of 200 daytime hours and 20 nighttime hours.
- A driving curfew during the probation period and a ban on carrying passengers under the age of 30.
The proposals may seem like radical changes, but the recommendations would bring the UK more in line with other countries such as France who require a minimum distance driven of 3000km before drivers are issued with a full licence.
Learning to drive in the US
As with many aspects of life in the UK, teenagers facing an increase in the driving age are likely to look to the US as a comparison, where some states allow applications for driving permits from the age of 14, while the standard is 16. However, the process for getting a learner’s permit in the US is much stricter than the UK. A look at Florida’s permit test process: americansafetycouncil.com/content/florida-learners-permit-test, shows that people must complete an online exam and a driver’s education course before being able to apply for their permit. The minimum pass rate for this is 80%.
In addition to the stricter permit process, drivers also face certain restrictions after passing their driving test. Some states observe a curfew which means drivers under a certain age are unable to drive after a certain time of night, as well as facing restrictions on how many people under the age of 21 they are allowed to carry as passengers. These sorts of restrictions could make a big difference to the driving culture among young people in the UK, but whether or not any changes are to be made remains to be seen.
Road safety is important, and while the licensing conditions remain as they are, it’s important that parents educate teenagers on the importance of safer driving. A Pass Plus course or continued supervised driving could help your teen to become more responsible on the road, encouraging a new generation of safety-conscious drivers.