Passing your driving test is a rite of passage for lots of young (and often older) people and you can’t help but feel thrilled when you get hold of your licence.

The independence to go where you want, when you want, is a huge motivator for learning to drive—whether that means popping out for a late-night snack or taking somebody out on a date. Those days might soon be over as the government considers banning young people from driving at night.

Introducing the Graduated Driving Licence

A Graduated Driving Licence (GDL) sets restrictions for new drivers for a fixed period.

In February 2018, former prime minister Theresa May requested an investigation into the effects of a GDL on the high number of crashes involving young motorists.

The GDL is one of 74 actions the Department for Transport (DfT) will consider as part of a new Road Safety Action Plan (published last Friday) to reduce road deaths in the United Kingdom.

In May last year, the DfT decided they would pilot a GDL in Northern Ireland (NI). There, rookie drivers must display ‘R’ (restricted) plates for 12 months, limiting their speed to 45mph. For the rest of the UK, displaying a ‘P’ plate on your vehicle shows you’ve just passed your test. You can leave these on your vehicles for as long as you choose but they’re not required by law.

The planned roll-out of GDLs across NI is throughout 2019 and 2020—although this idea is on hold because of the current absence of government there. The results of the pilot will decide whether the government extends the scheme to England, Scotland and Wales.

At the moment, the only specialised treatment for fledgling motorists is the reality of harsher punishments for breaking the law.

Motorists who get 12 points on their licence face disqualification, but for those who have driven unaccompanied for less than two years, it takes just six points to lose their licence. Inexperienced drivers might soon need supervision during after dark or find themselves with overnight curfews.

The rate of young drivers involved in road traffic collisions (RTC) is disproportionate to other age groups. Various sources show:

  • One in five crash within 12 months.
  • 25% experience an accident within the first two years.
  • 400 young, UK motorists sustain serious or fatal injuries each year from RTCs.
  • There were around 1,770 deaths on UK roads in the 12 months to June 2018.
  • Young men are four times more likely than women to suffer serious or fatal injuries from an RTC.
  • A small 7% of licence holders are between the ages of 17 and 24.
  • Drivers aged 16 to 19 are a third more likely to die in a crash than those aged 40 to 49.
  • The RAC’s Report on Motoring showed that 35% of motorists say the standard driving test doesn’t cover all the skills needed to cope with modern driving.

The UK has rejected programmes such as these before because of fears it might prevent young people from getting jobs and accessing education, but the government says the pilot will examine the economic and social impact of licence restrictions.

Many road safety and motoring groups support the idea because motorists who have just qualified (lacking experience but often feeling overconfident) are at an increased risk of RTC.

Both the AA and RAC back the scheme which would restrict motorists between six months to two years.

Restrictions for all ages?

Besides restricting driving at night, the government’s plan will also consider a limit on the car engine size, a minimum learning period before taking a test, and a restriction on the number of passengers under a certain age.

Neil Greig, Director of Policy and Research, IAM RoadSmart said:

‘In any graduated driver licencing (GDL) scheme, the key is building experience.

‘Too many young drivers pass the practical test unprepared for the road and this approach would help them survive the high-risk early months on their own.’

The GDL could apply to all inexperienced motorists of any age, although other countries where similar regulations are in place have included only those under 25.

There is already compelling evidence from other countries:

New Zealand, New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, Ontario and British Columbia in Canada, New York and California in the US, and Sweden all use a GDL for drivers under 25.

In New York, they only allow unsupervised driving at night for those commuting to and from work, while in California, the restrictions are between 11 pm to 5 am.

James Dalton, Director of General Insurance Policy at the Association of British Insurers, said:

‘The potential for Graduated Driver Licensing to dramatically improve road safety in the UK is indisputable and insurers have long called for its introduction.

‘The main aim must be to reduce deaths and serious injuries but it is also true that a dramatic reduction in accidents would do a lot to alleviate the pressure on insurance premiums for young drivers.

‘This will be even more important given the recent move by Government to set the rate for major compensation payments in a way which is likely to increase motor insurance costs, particularly for those younger motorists.’

There have already been several motoring reforms for UK drivers and last June, it became possible for learner drivers to have motorways lessons. But despite the announcement, it seems doubtful the government will introduce any new licencing system before 2022.

Stay safe after dark

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) reports a spike in the number of road users killed or injured when the clocks go back. While we’re enjoying long evenings, autumn will soon be upon us so, whether you’re a learner, new, or skilled driver, the following tips might be useful:

It’s illegal in the UK to drive at night without functioning lights, so check that your lights work as they should.

Turn on your car’s dipped headlights about an hour before sunset and keep them on an hour after sunrise. This makes sure we’re visible to other road users.

When using full beam, switch to dipped headlights as soon as another vehicle appears, so you don’t dazzle them and turn your gaze away from other lights and oncoming high beams, to avoid being dazzled.

Condensation or dirt on your windows can impair your view of the road and increase the glare from oncoming headlamps, so make sure they’re clear before driving.

Watch your speed even more so when driving after dark because as visibility deteriorates, you must reduce your speed for extra time to respond.

If you’re learning to drive, insist on getting some experience at night. If you’ve just passed, consider taking a Pass Plus course, which includes modules on night-time driving.

What’s your view on the UK having graduated driving licence scheme? Are you in favour? Share your opinion in the comments.

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