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Roads: Young Drivers

Volume 758: debated on Monday 12 January 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to produce a Green Paper to address the incidence of vehicle accidents involving young drivers.

My Lords, Britain has some of the safest roads in the world. However, young drivers are disproportionately involved in collisions. There is a difficult balance to strike between promoting young drivers’ safety and their freedom to access work and education. We will not rule out further measures, but at present we are focusing our efforts on technological solutions. We recently commissioned research into how telematics can reduce accident rates among young drivers and the findings will help to shape future road safety policy.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Young drivers account for about 20% of all road deaths, yet they represent only 7% of all fully licensed drivers and have less mileage than older drivers. Measures have been tried for many years, and all have failed. It is now time for this issue to be grasped. I believe the time has come for an all-party commitment, before the next election, to a Green Paper on young drivers that is prepared to see more radical solutions than we have seen so far. This will not only harness those who want to support this but will certainly give some relief to all the parents in Britain who are terrified of the statistics I have quoted. Is the Minister prepared to be part of an all-party commitment to a new Green Paper?

My Lords, the Government are not ruling out any programme that safeguards young drivers, but at the moment we are focusing our efforts on technological solutions, such as the telematics I described. We think they offer great potential and will help to get the right balance between safety and the freedom to use a car, which is so important to many young people.

Will the Minister consider looking at the Australian system, which is very much tougher on young drivers? Until a certain period has passed, you have to have a nil alcohol level, but the real secret is enforcement. Will she look at that policy?

Obviously it is important to look around the world, and we do. I agree that enforcement is important, and that is one of the very important areas for telematics, which provide a running judgment on the way in which a car is being driven at any moment.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that of the serious accidents caused by young drivers, the great proportion of those accidents, and fatalities, are caused by young men drivers, not by young women drivers. This is as much a cultural problem as anything else. What are the Government doing specifically to tackle that aspect of the problem?

We have extensive programmes on issues around drink driving, and I am sure your Lordships are aware of those campaigns. We have a very good safety record in this country, frankly, but we can never be complacent about that. As I say, the focus of the work is now on what we can do with telematics, which now enable us to tackle this problem in a much more targeted way. Research is under way so that we will be able to do that effectively.

My Lords, I concentrated on road safety for many years when I was a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority. The injuries which young men suffer—often at night, usually driving too fast, usually driving in wet conditions—are horrendous, and they are horrendously expensive. I wonder whether, instead of a Green Paper, the Minister would consider some legislation to make things like provisional licences a reality rather than something which people refer to every few years and then forget about.

My Lords, it is crucial that we use research and research-based evidence to design effective programmes. As noble Lords will know, there are many different examples around the world, but under its current system, which we are obviously seeking to improve, the UK actually scores very well on international measures.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness be kind enough to explain, for the benefit of elderly drivers who may not know, what telematics are?

My Lords, that, I am sure, his Lordship does know. It is basically a gizmo—if I may use such language—that is in the car, which constantly communicates the driving performance to the insurance company, so erratic driving and speeding are picked up on a live basis.

My Lords, is it therefore correct that the Government have wimped out on introducing graduated licences, and why do we allow motor manufacturers to build motor cars that can far exceed the prevailing speed limit?

My Lords, as I say, we have not ruled anything out, but we think telematics are a useful direction to pursue because they let us target problem driving, so that many other youngsters who are driving well still have the scope to reach various education and social events. As for the question of general speed limits in cars, I have never addressed that, but I will try to find the noble Lord an answer and write to him.

My Lords, is this the only Government who perceive a Green Paper as green grass into which they can kick difficult areas? In March last year the Minister made a commitment to produce this Green Paper. Subsequently it was quite clear that we would not see it before Christmas. We know the nature of the grass leading up to the next general election. This Government have no intention at all of tackling this significant road safety issue, and they stand condemned on that fact.

My Lords, the review of telematics will be a two-phase study, and we should see the first phase in April. That will lay out what further work needs to be done. At the moment we do not have the evidence base or the research that we need to make sure that we are coming up with the most appropriate solution.

My Lords, could I ask for a little more clarification about telematics? Does this mean that this gizmo has to be put in the car of every young driver for a period after they pass their test? Could my noble friend the Minister explain a little further?

At the moment, Members of your Lordships' House may themselves have driving insurance that has telematics attached. Anyone going on to one of the websites and looking at various insurance premiums will see that discounts are available for most companies if there is an agreement to use the telematics system. It is still obviously fairly early on in its life. That is why we need to have research, because we want to understand whether there is a good relationship between this ongoing monitoring of what is happening in the car and the actual accidents about which we are all concerned.

The Minister has not mentioned young motorcyclists. Are they not the group that is particularly in danger of accidents?

The noble Lord is right that young motorcyclists are also disproportionately engaged in accidents. I am frankly not clear on the insurance and telematics potential for motorcycles, and I will have to write to him on that.