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Driving Licence: Young and Newly Qualified Drivers

Volume 835: debated on Monday 15 January 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they are planning to introduce a graduated driving licence for young and newly qualified drivers.

My Lords, the Department for Transport has no plans to introduce a graduated driving licence scheme for young drivers. The department commissioned the £2 million Driver2020 research project to examine interventions designed to help learner and newly qualified drivers improve their skills and safety. We look forward to receiving the findings from that project, which will feed into considerations on further measures we could take to improve road safety for young drivers.

My Lords, the Minister will know that, in Wales, seven young men—still teenagers—lost their lives in tragic car accidents in the few weeks before Christmas. Year after year, young drivers, particularly young men, are grossly overrepresented in road casualty rates, and research shows that a combination of inexperience and incomplete brain development often features in the cause of accidents—although I obviously cannot comment on the two concerned. There is widespread support for graduated driving licences from the Association of British Insurers, the RAC, Brake, Project EDWARD and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. Will the Minister agree to add to the work that the Government are currently doing a thorough look at their recommendations to see whether it is now time for graduated driving licences in order to save these lives?

I assure the noble Baroness that the Government take this very seriously and are always prepared to listen to what others have to say. Going back to my earlier point, our largest young driver research piece is the Driver2020 project, an evaluation of interventions to improve the safety of young, novice drivers in partnership with the Transport Research Laboratory. It started in 2019 with 28,000 learner and novice drivers taking part and was completed in summer 2022. We look forward to getting the report this year.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as a qualified HGV driving instructor; I have done a lot of work with young drivers. Why does my noble friend the Minister not understand that young, novice drivers are completely ill-equipped and unable to block out distractions from youngsters in the back of the vehicle unless they have an older driver with them?

I do understand that. It is not a question of generalising; not all drivers are that bad. We must aim at making sure that the young, novice driver—who is perhaps not as experienced as others—is properly dealt with.

My Lords, while one has enormous sympathy with what is behind this Question, how can the Government get into these matters of further sophistication when there is an enormous waiting list for driving tests? The last stated figure was an 18 and a half-week wait for a driving test, which is very important to people trying to get jobs. The Government are supposed to be working towards a nine-week target. Can the Minister report progress on that, or is it just another example of a country that is not working any more?

I cannot give the noble Lord exact figures on that issue, but we will have a look at it and perhaps write to him.

My Lords, no one wants to prevent young people getting in their cars to get jobs and so forth. But with the considerable increase in the volume of traffic, particularly on motorways, and the introduction of smart motorways, is it not ludicrous that a novice driver can pass their driving test and drive straight on to a motorway or in the dark, both of which they may never have done before?

I take my noble friend’s point, but I think noble Lords should be aware that on acquiring their first full licence a new driver is on probation for two years. During that time, they are subject to a limit of six penalty points for any driving offences, including any received when in the learning stage. If six or more points are received, the driver loses their full licence and must apply again for a provisional licence, re-entering the learning stage, so it is quite stringent.

Does the noble Lord agree that one reason why young people sometimes drive so badly—and why so many young people are convicted of driving without insurance—is that the cost of insurance is way outside the budget of most families, even when the child in that family has learnt to drive through a driving school? Is it not time that the Government and the insurance industry got together to talk about educating young drivers to drive better and to obtain more driving experience?

I thank the noble Lord for that. He makes a very good point, and it is something which the Government could well look at.

My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who will be 70 later this year. Can my noble friend explain why it is that when you are 70, you have to reapply for your driving licence? Why pick on 70?

Can I say that I agree with my noble friend? At the age of 70, drivers must renew their entitlement and, at most, every three years after that. To renew the entitlement, they must make a legal declaration that they can meet the standards required to drive and confirm that they have listed any medical condition. That is the important point: whether there are any new medical conditions.

My Lords, while I support reviewing the issue of young drivers, perhaps if the Minister is to do that, he will look at older drivers. As far as I know, there have not been any young drivers driving up motorways in the wrong direction.

Again, I would say that it is about, every three years after becoming 70, making a medical declaration to ensure that a person is of sound mind and able to continue driving on our roads.

My Lords, many Members of this House are grandparents with teenage grandchildren. I say as one of them that it is exceedingly alarming to know that a new driver who has just passed their test can take a number of youngsters out after a party or some other gathering or to a gathering. Hopefully, they are not breaking the law by drinking, but the behaviour in the car and the distraction is a genuinely serious issue and a major cause of many of the accidents about which we are concerned.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right; I cannot disagree with her. That is why the Government have commissioned the young driver research piece, the Driver 2020 project, and I hope that it will produce some suggestions as to how we may deal with this.

My Lords, I want to apologise to the House. About a year ago, I got up and claimed that insurance and other details said that women drivers were substantially better drivers than men, and I wanted to argue their case. Sadly, within 24 hours of my asking that question, two female members of my family committed minor offences in motor cars. I therefore wish to ask my noble friend to try to justify my position by indicating that between young drivers—young people of both sexes—young women drivers are safer drivers for insurance purposes than young men.

I am afraid I am not in a position to comment on that. What I can say, on a very serious point, is that, overall, the figures for 2022 are that one fifth of all car collisions resulting in death or serious injury involved young drivers aged between 17 and 24. In 2022, 1,365 young car drivers were killed or seriously injured. Young male car drivers aged 17 to 24 are four times as likely to be killed or seriously injured compared with all car drivers aged 25 or over.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the major factors leading to the death or serious injury of those aged between 17 and 24 is a higher incidence of drink and drugs among that cohort, which is well known by the insurance industry? Does he recognise that we have the weakest rules relating to the amount that one can drink in the whole of Europe, apart from Malta? Is it not time that, when they come to undertake the review following the evidence being presented, the Government take action and require them to stay away from drinking in the way that they do at the moment?