How the number don’t add up for younger motorists
Young drivers are always getting singled out for strong criticism. They’re accused of being irresponsible, reckless and dangerous. This has led to some lively debates about the UK’s younger motorists during the past 12 months, and a range of headline-grabbing ideas been suggested to ‘deal’ with the issues surrounding them.
But is the reputation of younger drivers justified? If so, why are they a higher risk? And what are the solutions?
The numbers don’t lie
When it comes to young drivers and road safety, the numbers don’t add up in their favor. The Association of British Insurers says that only 12% of drivers in the UK are under 25, but that this age group accounts for over 30% of road fatalities; the Association of British Insurers estimates than an 18-year-old is three times more likely to be involved in a crash than a driver who is 30-years-old.
The data on road accidents and fatalities clearly shows that drivers aged 17-24 are involved in a disproportionately high number of incidents. In 2011 a total of 5,419 people were killed or seriously injured in UK accidents involving young drivers.
It’s an imbalance that can seriously affect young drivers’ ability to find competitive premiums, and leaves them in desperate need of advice when looking for more specialist policies. But what’s the reason for this disparity? Why are so many young drivers and passengers dying on the roads?
Driven to distraction
One explanation is that young drivers are dangerously distracted. A recent YouGov poll of 2,500 young people found that 45% were distracted by scenery, 44% by the radio and 33% by mobile phones.
Then there’s the distraction of carrying passengers; anecdotal evidence suggests that peer pressure to drive fast and take risks is a very real problem. Even when a young driver is alone they’re more likely to break the speed limit – the research by YouGov found a quarter 24% of young drivers said they would find it acceptable to speed at night.
Mind the gap
Another explanation is the skill and knowledge ‘gap’ – younger motorists are less accomplished drivers than their older counterparts, and are more likely to make mistakes in marginal situations.
This certainly isn't surprising. Driving is a skill, developed through years of practical application. Older drivers with decades of experience have logged thousands of hours behind the wheel, whereas young motorists are constantly encountering new situations – such as heavy rain, driving at night or using busy motorways – after they pass their test.
Research by Red Driving School supports the theory of a knowledge gap applying to young drivers. It questioned 1,000 drivers aged 14-17 and found that 79% didn't know the legal drink driving limit in the UK. The research also revealed that 20% of respondents drink drive when “the unexpected happens”. Separate research has suggested that drivers aged 20-24 fail more breath tests than any other age group.
Care and accountability
Finally, the higher risk of younger drivers can be partly explained by a lack of care, investment and responsibility towards servicing and insurance. The society of motor maintenance and traders found young drivers were not servicing their car properly, and were unaware that software updates are available.
The society of motor maintenance and traders polled 2,000 drivers and found 10% of drivers aged 18-24 never had their car serviced; 12% of drivers 25-34 had never serviced their car. These figures are strikingly different to older drivers – only 5% of drivers aged 35-54 – and only 2% of drivers over 55 – fail to have their car properly maintained.
The driver and vehicle licensing agency has reported the number of 17-20 years-old drivers without insurance has fallen by half in three years. However, this age group still accounts for 10% of the 1.2 million uninsured drivers thought to be on the road – a disproportionately high figure.
So the question is are young drivers safe to be on our roads?
By Beth Lloyd