David Leitch: Young drivers can be engine behind change

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As leading insurers suggest bringing in new restrictions for young drivers, David Leitch argues that a more innovative approach should be taken

But is this another example of tarring all young drivers with the same brush? The move is fiercely opposed by a number of young people and, in particular, the lack of consultation has been extremely difficult to handle.

The announcement by the body that represents leading insurers in the UK has done nothing to ease the unrest felt by many young people – once again it could be the case that young people are forced to accept an attack on their rights, which has little merit other than being the “flavour of the moment” in terms of casualty reduction.

Graduated driving licensing falls under reserved issues and therefore the Scottish Government has no current ability to introduce the scheme, with the current official position from the UK Department for Transport against the introduction of such a scheme.

Despite this, the Scottish Government’s road safety team is working towards a number of commitments as laid out in Scotland’s Road Safety Framework. These commitments include tackling issues regarding young drivers. Part of this focus and one of the Scottish Government’s commitments was to hold a young drivers debate, duly delivered in December of last year. The debate was heavily focused on graduated driving licensing and additional training. Seventeen recommendations were made as a result of the conversation, including the need to gather further evidence on the effectiveness of graduated driving licensing.

This debate was conducted with young people and the dialogue was genuine and fair. The Scottish Government’s genuine engagement with young people has allowed a unique perspective to be included in decision making and has certainly ensured that with regards to issues such as graduated driving licensing decisions are based not only on pre-existing evidence, but on the views of our young population.

In Scotland, roughly 25 per cent of fatalities on our roads involve young drivers, yet the number of young licence holders is much lower. Young people recognise the disproportionate nature of this situation and do acknowledge that something must be done to reduce fatalities. However, policy is often much more effective if it is well explained and shaped by those it is designed to target.

Essentially, any action to reduce young driver fatalities must be taken with young people and not against them.

It is important to remember also that young people already pay significantly more for car insurance and a large number of young people who never experience an incident while driving are unnecessarily punished. All newly qualified drivers are a risk yet newly qualified younger drivers have to pay a far higher price than older drivers who are similarly inexperienced.

There is no conclusive evidence that any one particular graduated driving licence scheme will bring about the radical reduction in UK road incident rates that is desired. It is also the case that although the Association of British Insurers has set out certain exemptions to the rules, such as those young people who drive for work, there will almost certainly be exceptions not accounted for. Although some may see this as a price worth paying, the fact is that young people are often disadvantaged in a number of ways and a scheme such as this compounds this inequality.

If we accept this quick fix, we may lose a genuine opportunity to change the learning experience and enhance young driver safety. If insurance firms were to work with young people and the Government, for example, extending existing schemes such as black box learning, we may find that young people are much more engaged and the learning process is far more attuned to the needs of our youth. There are a number of innovative approaches that are being used on a small scale, which could, if trailed properly, have a significant casualty-reducing effect.

It is time for insurers to join the discussion instead of opting for a quick fix that lacks imagination and is driven by profit margins.

It is also time to stop subjecting young people to ill-considered and unimaginative restrictions which cause resentment and hide the real issues we face.

n David Leitch is a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament and a student at Edinburgh University