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Road Safety GB sees potential in 'Young Driver' scheme

Monday 22nd February 2010

While the police and RoSPA have raised concerns about a new scheme designed to help teach 11-16 year-olds how to drive carefully, the chair of Road Safety GB feels the scheme has 'real potential' and should be 'allowed to develop'.

Thousands of children are enrolling for driving lessons at specialist centres under the 'Young Driver' scheme, which is operated by the insurer Admiral Mulitcar and Seat UK.

Young Driver teaches youngsters to drive dual-controlled cars in a 'safe' environment. Using 200 new SEAT Ibiza models and specially designed driving zones, the organisers say the experience has been a 'massive hit' with young drivers and parents.

Kim Stanton, from Young Driver, said: "We are teaching youngsters the vital skills they are going to need in later life to drive.

"We believe these skills will stay with them, and learning at this age, when they are very keen to absorb and retain a lot of what we teach them, will definitely make them safer drivers."

Alan Kennedy, chairman of Road Safety GB, said: “We believe that this scheme may have real potential and should not be entirely dismissed – these youngsters are learning in a controlled environment, not out on our roads.

“By teaching pre drivers to use a car’s controls properly, new drivers can spend their ‘learner phase’ focusing on road safety issues and this could have a significant positive effect on the number of crashes involving new drivers.

“The evidence from Sweden is that this kind of approach has seen a 40% reduction in young driver casualties.  It is important to 'experiment' in a controlled environment, so we can develop programmes to enhance road safety in the future.  We should let this UK programme develop, see the results, and evaluate it fully.”

But inspector Alan Jones, from the Police Federation of England and Wales, has expressed reservations, saying: "Driving on one of these courses at 11 years old, it's another six years until you can get a driving licence. How does it replicate the real world, the spontaneous incidents?

"Are kids mature enough at 11, 12, 13 years old to understand what's happening on the roads, to be able to manage all the demands and pressures? I'm not persuaded it's a good idea."

RoSPA has also warned the courses could make youngsters over confident and more likely to crash. Kevin Clinton said: "It will probably mean youngsters will take fewer lessons when they come to learn to drive and if they take fewer lessons they will get less experience.

"That means when they pass their test they may be at greater risk of crashing because they won't have had as much experience when they are supervised."

Click here to read the full BBC News report.


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14 year olds should be allowed to ride 50cc mopeds in the uk.
Louis Mongue-Din Brighton

Yes teaching youngsters to drive is good as they learn quicker, but instead of banning young drivers from the road at night why cant they introduce speed limiters for the young, and let them earn the increase in power along with their no claim bonuses? Speed limiters that are fitted to lorries and new cars are limited to 155mph so whats the problem? might even reduce insurance cost for everyone.
Rodney Gillyett - North Lincolnshire

This is an interesting debate. I'll try to keep it brief:
1. Yes, our Road Safety Profession does need to develop critical and analytical skills to replace reactions. The RoSPA/DfT evaluation initiative is an excellent first step. All those who have succesfully completed the ManCat Diploma are also well placed to help with this.
2. If developing driving skills alone at a younger age is likely to reduce collision involvement, we and other rural counties should be able to evidence this as many of our rural based youngsters learn to drive at an early age on farms and estate lands. They then drive on rural A & B class roads at National Limit. We don't see an obviously lower rate here but it may exist and noit have been identified - there's a research project, surely?
3. I would think that an attitudinal and coaching approach allied with some skills based training may offer benefits. I can well see that learning roadskills and developing judgement on a moped first, rather than off-road in a car - might be more effective as there is no protective physical surround which may help to reduce over-confidence. Again, research needed.
Honor Byford. North Yorkshire

Hmmm... I'm not sure that the skill of the driver is the issue so much as the attitude. You can teach someone almost perfect machine control with a little practise but if they do not have a good attitude to road use then it is a waste of time. You only need to look at kids on scooters to see that. However it's worth trying something rather than nothing.
Dave, Leeds

There are potentially lots that can be added to this debate but I’d like to make three points:
1) There is an absolute plethora of research around driver training emanating from, not just, Sweden but Scandinavia in general and this region seems to lead the world in driver training and education research, certainly in terms of the quantity of its output! Therefore, if one independently researches driver training schemes, then sooner rather than later one will have to critically assess a Scandinavian research or evaluation project. For example the GDE framework was developed by Swedish researchers out of the University of Turku -
(Hatakka, M., Keskinen, E., Gregersen, N.P., Glad, A., Hernetkoski, K. (2002) From control of the vehicle to personal self-control; broadening the perspectives to driver education. Transportaion Research, F, 201-215)

It is therefore, somewhat unhelpful to ‘namedrop’ but not reference ‘Swedish’ research and it is equally unhelpful and parochial to dismiss it out of hand.

2) Secondly, whilst it is true that much of the research shows no significant difference in crash risk, post-training, it is also true to say that reductions in accident/collision/casualty rates are not necessarily the most reliable indicators of driver training effectiveness, as noted in earlier comments. Much of the most recent research focuses on reductions in risk taking behaviours, which may or may not ultimately improve road safety records whilst not necessarily influencing accident risk.

3) I think the discussion generated by this article opens up the wider debates not just about EBP in road safety but also about road safety practitioner’s capabilities and proclivities toward critically assessing and reviewing research themselves. In my view it is vital that the road safety community has the ability to access available research and be able to critically assess it and draw their own conclusions. At the moment much of what we seem to do is pull out headlines from random pieces of research that may or may not be generalisable enough to apply to our own work. We must become much savvier about how we read, critique and use research.
Graham Campbell, Blackburn with Darwen

This would only encourage young people to drive under age and to take vehicles, possibly parents without consent.
John Richardson, South Yorkshire

Risk has a number of related, but different meanings. I explained my (and TRL’s) use of the term. It's a good point to raise about the benefits of P2W track days dividing opinion. The parallels to this question are obvious: some feel 'it must be beneficial' and others are less convinced. But given that the weight of evidence against the collision reducing potential of pre-driver training isn't making us waver (bear in mind the TRL report is a summary of two decades of research) I can only assume that proper evaluation of track days wouldn’t change some people’s minds and they would prefer to go with their intuition. I hope that the Young Driver initiative is being properly evaluated (and, please, not just collision numbers - too many variables and too small a sample). The report recommends focusing on the early post-test phase, the crucial first 1000 miles, as well as using approaches based on treating driving as a cognitive skill, e.g. improved hazard perception etc. I would suggest that we make this context-sensitive, e.g. try to get away from a sterile environment and make the training relevant to situations new drivers find themselves in. I would also be interested in moving further up the GDE matrix into the harder-to-deliver stuff that has much more of a psychological basis but remains a largely unworked vein of collision reducing potential.
Mike Mounfield, Birmingham

Risk is the exposure to an unwanted event, danger or loss that has the potential to occur. It is not the statistical recording of when that potential event has evolved into reality hence, risk can be nebulous because of its imprecision. In the world of motorcycling, many believe that track days are valuable because riders can hone their skills on a race-track and subsequently transfer those skills to the public road resulting in risk reduction. The difference in contexts, in this case, is not as significant as may appear because each training situation addresses a complimentary facit of the overall objective. All police driving schools, both in the UK and abroad, have preliminary off-road sessions for both cars and motorcycles. I am mindful of the work done by TRL but I am not persuaded that to be negative towards the Young Drivers Scheme is wise at this stage. I suppose the only way we will have a truer picture is to compare the rate of collisions involving post-test young drivers who have had pre-driver training with those who have not. Even that will be influenced by many variables and will be a lengthy process as research always is. Does the TRL Report deliver a workable conclusion on this outcome or does it focus on risk?
Roy Buchanan, Principal Road Safety Officer, London Borough of Sutton

Interesting to note the Chairman's interjection into the original article. I'd be interested to read the reference to the Swedish research. Ironically it is the ‘controlled environment’ that seems to break the link between pre-driver training and post-test collision risk. Again drawing on the TRL report many cognitive studies of transferring skills from one context to another, involving much simpler tasks than driving, show that the transfer doesn't work if the contexts are too different. Sitting in a dual controlled car on private ground in daylight with an adult in a pedagogic context is just too different from driving on an unfamiliar road at night with three boisterous mates in the car (a typical high risk scenario). Perhaps I should clarify my use of the term ’risk’: in this context it means collisions per unit of exposure (kilometres, trips etc) NOT collisions that haven’t happened. Of course what pre-driver training may do is provide early learning of the basics of vehicle control, the bottom tier of the GDE matrix, leading to early test passing and therefore early (and longer) exposure to driving on the road. I’m not saying we shouldn’t expose pre-drivers to some form of ‘driver education’ but we should be realistic in the light of the research and perhaps focus our attention on the content, making it as transferable and useful as possible and possibly looking for collateral benefits, the influence on their parents’ driving etc. Sticking them in a car and showing them how to drive aged 11-16 doesn’t seem to stop them crashing later. Let’s use that knowledge and develop what we do.
Mike Mounfield, Birmingham

I think Mike has, quite rightly, touched on a concept that is too readily embraced in road safety. Superficially, the idea that something 'must work' is an unreliable premise that needs development to be useful as a basis for both policy and strategy. He is right in his quote from the TRL Report but the report talks about risk. Risk and actuality are not the same. Semantics can confuse, but I am reminded of the debates that took place some twenty years ago regarding DRLs with the consequence that we now have hard-wired motorcycles "as it is so obvious that it must work". This outcome was based on one flawed document, discredited by later research, but progressed by safety experts in positions of power. To the best of my knowledge, the French experience was not the result of "anecdotal interviews with 14 year olds sitting astride of P2Ws" but the "proper evaluation" of post-test standards carried out by researchers. The French may find Mike's comment impertinent. However, it is appropriate that concepts are subject to "proper evaluation" but even that must be questioned objectively. What does the term mean? What are the evaluaters trying to prove? Is there a built-in bias governed by motive? As Mike said, "it isn't a simple question with a simple answer" but it is healthy to have these discussions in order to have as deep an understanding as possible.
Roy Buchanan. Principal Road Safety Officer, London Borough of Sutton

Sorry, but this is not supposition, nor is it merely my opinion. Nor is it based on anecdotal interviews with 14 year-olds sitting astride a P2W! It isn't a simple question with a simple answer, but it is clear that we are attributing benefits for pre-driver education that stem from our own intuitive feelings that 'it must work'. Here is a direct quote from the TRL review: "There have been a number of major reviews of evaluation studies conducted on this issue over the last two decades. All of these reviews have concluded that [pre]driver education and training has little or no reliable direct effect on road safety in terms of reductions in collision risk for new drivers..." (TRLINS005 pp5) It then goes on to list the evaluations. When are we going to start taking proper evaluation seriously?
Mike Mounfield, Birmingham

Whilst I can understand the apprehension of Alan Jones and Kevin Clinton, both commentators are dwelling in theoretical negativity. It behoves us to look at the positive outcomes from abroad. Sweden, the market leader in road safety, has had encouraging results from their initiative. France, a rapidly improving country in road safety, has claimed that allowing 14 year olds to ride mopeds on the road has produced a higher standard in post-test motorcyclists. During my visit to the Gendarmerie Nationale Motorcycle Training School, the riders under training that I spoke to commented that starting on mopeds at 14 gave them an advantage. On balance, the Young Driver Scheme should be encouraged. Only then will we be in a position to evaluate the outcome. To discourage it at this early stage, based on supposition, is not an acceptable approach. Brian Mooney's comment, seems to me, soundly based so I am unable to share Mike Mounfield's concern, but there again, I do not see the ABD as the devil incarnate in the way as some people do.
Roy Buchanan, Principal Road Safety Officer, London Borough of Sutton

Funny how the Hinda scheme to teach 6 to 11 yr olds the pleasures of riding 50cc motorcycles in a safe environment didnt receive these concerns from the police or RoSPA. But then again this relates to CARS and not motorbikes. Just shows the dual standards at work. Personally providing that kids are of a good age I see no problem. The underage kids who TWOK or drive unlawfully otherwise dont go in for training, do they.

PS how will driving round a load of cones teach youngsters how to be considerate to other road users?
Bob Craven, Blackpool

You always know you're on dodgy ground when you find ABD agree with you. As commented last week the research indicates that pre-driver training doesn't reduce collision risk for new drivers. It's there for everyone to read (TRL INS005).
Mike Mounfield, Birmingham