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Risks to young drivers

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As we approach International Youth Day (12 August), it feels like an important time to highlight the risks our young people face every day driving on our roads. 

The fact that young novice drivers are over-represented in crashes is not a surprise. We must go back to the early 1960s to discover the first-time young drivers came into the eye of the storm in road traffic statistics, and this is the case in all developed nations with mass motorisation.

There are two causes for this over-representation in crashes:

 

  1. Lack of higher-order driving skills due to inexperience (e.g. hazard perception and risk awareness)
  2. Risk-taking tendencies due to young age

Young people struggle with identifying and assessing potential hazards and sometimes overestimate their skills. As a result, they tend to engage in driving tasks which exceed their still limited abilities. They often drive more during the night and have a higher crash risk when driving under the influence of alcohol, even though they do not drink and drive more often than middle-aged drivers.

To better understand the reason behind risk-taking tendencies, we dive into the world of biology. The human brain is not completely developed until approximately 25 years of age. The part of the brain that urges us to think first and act later is the last part to mature. However, the part of the brain that regulates emotions, motivation and satisfaction of needs matures much quicker. Due to this asynchronous development, young people are more inclined to take risks, are susceptible to peer pressure and seek to satisfy their own needs such as pleasure. They are also inherently more curious about new stimuli. Therefore, they have trouble focusing on the most significant traffic stimuli and their ability to suppress impulsive reactions is not fully developed.

Unfortunately, the young novice driver problem is more difficult to solve than other road safety problems because part of the problem is inherent given the nature of young people, and this can of course not be changed. Therefore, one of the most powerful countermeasures is free public transport for young drivers. Free public transport protects young drivers, other road users and our environment. 

Another countermeasure outlined in the European Road Safety Observatory thematic report on novice drivers, suggests a Graduated Driver Licence. This programme wants aspirant drivers to gain experience in safe conditions first before they are allowed to drive in more demanding traffic situations. Research has proven that these types of programs can reduce the crash risk and the improve the driving skills of novice drivers.

Are you curious to learn more about other countermeasures? Access the full report here