How dangerous are young drivers?

26 March 2013

Are young drivers the rogues of the road? It's often noted that they're involved in a disproportionate number of traffic accidents, which is reflected in the fact that many of them pay high insurance premiums.

This week Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin announced that the Government would take further steps to reduce the number of young people dying on the roads. These measures include requiring young people to wait at least 6 months between applying for a provisional licence and sitting their driving test, banning young drivers from being on the road at night and imposing restrictions on the number of passengers they can carry.

The Independent reported Mr McLoughlin's claim that "one fifth of the people killed or seriously injured on roads in 2011 were involved in a collision where at least one driver was aged under 25".

We can trace the source of this claim to the Department for Transport's annual report on Reported Road Casualties. This shows that there were more than 150,000 road accidents in Great Britain in 2011, with almost 204,000 casualties reported in total.

Of the 151,474 accidents, 24 per cent (35,953 accidents) involved young drivers - those aged between 17 and 24.

According to the DfT, these same drivers accounted for 412 deaths or 22 per cent of the total and 4,894 of them (or 20 per cent of the total) were killed or seriously injured (so-called KSI casualties).

Since 2010 the number of deaths in accidents involving young drivers has actually fallen slightly: by a margin of 25 deaths.

However, this decline was recorded at a time when there was a small increase in fatalities across other age groups (see the graph at the bottom of the article). However, research from the Transport Research Lab (TRL) shows that between 2007 and 2010, during the recession, "the number of fatalities on British roads fell markedly". TRL suggest that this is due to a number of factors, including a reduction in overall traffic volume and people driving more slowly to conserve fuel.

The graph below clearly demonstrates that there's been a steady decrease in the number of road deaths where there's a young driver involved. However, that's not to say that a young driver is always at fault - for instance, there might be another, older driver involved.

A similar trend is in evidence if we also include those who have been seriously injured.

Still, the trend might not be as impressive as it appears on first sight. 

The National Travel Survey reveals that there are fewer young drivers on the road. In fact, the proportion of young men (in this case, those aged 17-20) holding a full driving licence declined from 41 per cent in 2007 to 35 per cent in 2010. (The equivalent figures for young female drivers are broadly stable.) The survey data also indicates that, while people of all ages are driving shorter distances, young drivers have reduced their mileage more than any other group.

The Government will now outline its proposals in a Green Paper that's due to be published within the next few months. It might seem odd that the Coalition has made the safety of young drivers a priority when they appear to be involved in fewer and fewer accidents. Yet it's still clear that those in their teens and early twenties are the most vulnerable on the roads:

Although this graph doesn't refer exclusively to driver deaths and also includes the death of anyone who's in the car, the drop off in deaths among 16-25 year olds can be explained by there being fewer accidents involving young drivers (as the graphs above show).

While its intervention might prove controversial, the Government will hope that its initiatives help to protect young drivers from themselves.

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