Young drivers

December 2013

Topic briefing

A disproportionate number of young people are killed and seriously injured on Britain’s roads each year: 17-24 year old drivers account for only 3-5% of car miles driven, but make up almost a quarter of drivers killed.1

The government is due to publish a green paper on improving road safety for young drivers. The paper is expected to consider proposals including a graduated driver licensing (GDL) approach.

Key issues

Figures for 20121

  • 17-24 year olds made up nearly a quarter of all car drivers (133 out of 542 drivers) who died on Britain’s roads. The number of young drivers killed has fallen in recent years - the figure for 2011 is 48% less than the 2005-09 average. However, this is likely to be down to reductions in the number of young drivers and the average distances they drive. Rising car insurance costs for young people are one of the factors contributing to fewer becoming drivers.
  • A further 1,245 17-24 year old drivers were seriously injured in road accidents, bringing the total number of deaths and serious injuries among young car drivers to 1,378.
  • Around 22% of all accidents that took place on the roads involved at least one young driver. These accidents resulted in 350 deaths and more than 4,100 seriously injured casualties, which is a fifth of all deaths and serious injuries.

Factors influencing young drivers and road safety

Age and lack of driving experience are the main factors behind young drivers having an increased risk of being involved in a road traffic collision. Young driver crashes differ from those of more experienced drivers – they are more likely to happen at night and are frequently a result of ‘loss of control’ and high speeds. There are often no other vehicles involved.2

  • Age: At the age of 18, the areas of the brain responsible for the integration of information and impulse control are still developing.3 Young people tend to overestimate their ability to avoid hazards.
  • Lack of experience: One in five young drivers has an accident in the six months after passing their driving test.4 Estimates suggest that most learning occurs during the first 500-1000 miles of driving. The highest risk is faced by 17 year olds who have just learned to drive, while people who pass their test later have a lower risk level.
  • Driving with passengers: Driving with passengers significantly increases the crash risk for novice drivers, particularly young male drivers. The crash risk rises with each additional passenger carried – it is nearly three times higher when carrying three passengers than when driving alone.5 Peer pressure can encourage young drivers to drive more dangerously.
  • Driving at night: The increased crash risk for novice drivers at night-time is thought to be a result of a lack of experience of driving in darkness, which requires different skills to daylight driving, and an increased likelihood of impairments such as being distracted by passengers or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.5
  • Distractions and impairments: Young drivers are more likely to text while driving or use a mobile phone with or without a hands free kit. They are less likely than older drivers to classify mobile phone use and drink driving as extremely unacceptable.6 Alcohol consumption in low quantities is known to have a greater effect on young drivers than on experienced drivers.
  • Overconfident and risky driving: Young drivers, especially young male drivers, take more risks. Risk taking is a natural part of adolescent development, but some individuals are more prone to it than others. Young male drivers in particular may feel they have a ‘natural talent’ for driving and use driving confidence to project a particular image and identity.

Policy arena

Public Health Outcomes Framework

The vision for the Public Health Outcomes Framework, which was updated in November 2013, is to improve and protect the nation’s health and wellbeing, and to improve the health of the poorest fastest. Accident prevention is one of the 17 key areas identified as a responsibility for local authorities. The framework notes that injuries disproportionately affect children from lower socio-economic groups. It includes the following indicators which relate to fatal and serious road traffic accidents:

  • indicator 1.10: killed and seriously injured casualties on England's roads
  • indicator 2.7: hospital admissions caused by unintentional and deliberate injuries in children and young people aged 0-14 and 15-24 years.

Strategic framework for road safety

The Strategic framework for road safety, published in 2011, sets out roles and responsibilities for local authorities, road safety professionals and other stakeholders involved in improving road safety. In a change to previous approaches to road safety, the framework replaced road safety targets with an action plan and outcomes framework that includes a number of indicators.

The road safety framework included the following proposals:

  • developing a new post-test vocational qualification
  • more targeted and effective marketing to reinforce safety messages
  • continuing to improve initial training for learner drivers.

Transport committees

The House of Commons Select Committee on Transport called for the consideration of a GDL scheme in its 2007 report. The committee’s 2012 report on road safety examined the strategic framework in light of an increase in road deaths in 2011 and includes a section on young drivers which mentions GDL, but does not make a firm recommendation on the approach.

Young Driver Green Paper

The government is due to publish a green paper on young driver road safety at the end of 2013 or start of 2014. The green paper is expected to examine proposals including:

  • a minimum learning period before candidates are permitted to sit their test
  • enabling learner drivers to take lessons on motorways, during adverse weather conditions or during darkness
  • increasing the existing probationary period from two to three years for a new driver’s licence to be revoked if they receive six or more penalty points
  • making the driving test more rigorous
  • incentives for young drivers to take up additional training after passing their test.
  • adopting a GDL approach to place temporary restrictions on newly qualified drivers.7

Prevention programmes

Driver education and training

On average, learner drivers have 52 hours of professional lessons before taking the practical test, with an average learning time of 14 months.8 Reviews of driver training and education targeted at young and novice drivers have found that additional driving training and education, beyond that required to pass the test, has limited direct beneficial effects on the safety of new drivers. The exception to this is training that focuses on cognitive skills in hazard perception.9

The Honest Truth Partnership provides driving instructors with resources containing essential information for their learner drivers, to promote responsible driving and reduce the number of young drivers killed and seriously injured on the roads. Find out more in our case study

School-based education

Research conducted in 2002 found that young people, and males in particular, show signs of developing undesirable attitudes to driving well before they reach driving age. These attitudes include thinking they already know how to drive, that learning to drive will be easy and that it will improve their popularity, and wanting to drive fast.10 Other research has highlighted the difficulties of influencing behaviours and attitudes towards topics such as road safety after children reach the age of 11.8

Although there is no requirement for schools to include road safety education within the curriculum, it is one way in which schools can meet statutory requirements for PSHE and citzenship teaching. A study on the delivery of road safety education found widely varying approaches across the country and low levels of engagement by some in the educational sector. It also found that many health and education professionals see road safety education as secondary to education about other social issues, such as sex and relationships, drug and alcohol awareness and healthy eating.11

The THINK! road safety education resource centre provides teaching materials for early years, primary school and secondary school levels. The resources for older students focus increasingly on driving safety and passenger safety, by tackling topics such as how to challenge risky behaviour.

The road safety charity Brake runs an annual Road Safety Week and the 2young2die campaign which provides campaigning tools and trains young people, teachers and others who work with young people to become volunteer ambassadors who can give talks and run workshops in schools, colleges and in the community.

Pre-driver training

Early experience of driving is available to under 17s through schemes such as, local authority led programmes and charity-based training programmes such as the Under 17 Car Club Charitable Trust. An evaluation of the effectiveness of the Under 17 Car Club found that its graduates are three times safer than their peers, with a first-year accident rate of 1 in 21 (4.8%) compared with 1 in 5 (20%) nationally.12 However, the numbers of young people involved in the scheme are small and it is possible that the difference in risk is due to other factors, such as high levels of motivation and the involvement of more responsible, better-off parents.8

Graduated driver licensing

Some countries use graduated driver licensing (GDL), where driving rights are gained over time. GDL schemes are designed to enable the new driver to gain valuable experience under low risk conditions. They often include restrictions covering all or some of the following conditions:

  • the number of passengers that the driver is allowed to have
  • when they may drive (night-time curfews)
  • the size or power of vehicle they can drive
  • the types of roads they may use
  • a zero-level alcohol limit.

Examples of countries which have well-established GDL schemes – some going back several decades – include the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Northern Ireland plans to introduce a GDL system from April 2014.13

Countries that use GDL have found it to have a positive effect on the number of road traffic fatalities, casualties and collisions. A 2011 Cochrane Review found that GDL schemes can achieve:

  • 4-7% reductions in all crashes involving a teenage driver
  • 4-23% reductions in injury crashes involving a teenage driver
  • 19-20% reductions in hospitalisations involving a teenage driver
  • 15-57% reductions in fatal crashes involving a teenage driver.14

It has been calculated that a full GDL scheme for 17-19 yr olds in Great Britain could reduce the overall number of road casualties by 4,471, deaths by 230 and costs by £224 million.15

In 2013, MP for North Swindon Justin Tomlinson introduced a private member’s bill on GDL. The Graduated Driving Licence Scheme Bill 2013-14 had its second reading in the House of Commons on 19 June 2013.

More information is available in the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) briefing on GDL.

Pass Plus

Pass Plus is a practical training course for drivers who have passed their driving test. It takes at least six hours and is designed to help drivers to improve their skills and drive more safely. It covers driving in towns and on rural roads, on dual carriageways and motorways, and at night and in different weather conditions. The course must be taken with a Pass Plus approved driving instructor. It can be taken at any time although it is intended to be most useful to new drivers in the year after passing their test. Young drivers who complete Pass Plus may be able to get a car insurance discount.

Parental influence

Parents are influential as role models for young drivers, particularly when it comes to the use of seatbelts. Parental monitoring of the learning process and novice driving has also been found to have a positive effect on the safety of the child’s driving. Parent/young driver agreements are commonly used in the USA; these agreements set out conditions in areas such as driving at night, carrying passengers, speeding, mobile phone use and seatbelt wearing. RoSPA’s Parents and Young Drivers leaflet (PDF) includes a template safer driving agreement.


In response to the rising cost of car insurance for young drivers, one proposal that has been put forward is for young drivers to agree to have telematics, also known as ‘black boxes’, installed in their cars to monitor their driving behaviour and gain lower premiums. Black boxes can record speed, distance and time of travel as well as aspects of driving style, such as accelerating and braking. Information is provided to the driver and to the insurer. Telematics-based insurance schemes are still in the early stages and uptake of this technology is believed to be quite low to date.

Partnership working

Local partnerships are a vital part of improving driving safety for young people. See our topic briefing on road safety for more information about using partnership working to address this issue.

How Making the Link can help you

Making the Link is here to support people with a role to play in child accident prevention throughout England. We recognise that effective child accident prevention programmes and strategies happen through successful partnership working. We’d like to hear about the work you’re doing in your area and any things that have worked well which we can share with other professionals on the Making the Link site.

Email us at to:

  • submit case studies about your child accident prevention work
  • suggest ideas for Making the Link resources that you would find helpful
  • find out more about the project or any of the information on our website. 

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Useful links

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External links

Download this topic briefing as a PDF

References for this article

  1. Reported road casualties Great Britain: annual report 2012, Department for Transport, 2013
  2. Reported road accidents involving young car drivers: Great Britain 2011 (link opens PDF) Department for Transport, 2012
  3. European Commission road safety knowledge base article on novice drivers, accessed 5 December 2013
  4. Learning to Drive Public Consultation, Driving Standards Agency, 2008
  5. House of Commons Transport Committee – Seventh Report: Section 7 – Graduated driver licensing, 2007
  6. THINK! Road Safety 2013 annual survey, Department for Transport, 2013
  7. Government to overhaul young driver rules in bid to improve safety and cut insurance costs, Department for Transport press release, 25 March 2013
  8. Young driver safety: Solutions to an age-old problem, RAC Foundation, 2013
  9. Helman et al, How can we produce safer new drivers? A review of the effects of experience, training and limiting exposure on the collision risk of new drivers, TRL, 2010
  10. Cradle attitudes - grave consequences: The development of gender differences in risky attitudes and behaviour in road use, AA Foundation for Road Safety Research, 2002
  11. Building on Success: Improving the Delivery of Road Safety Education, Training and Publicity (link opens PDF), Department for Transport, 2009
  12. Under 17 Car Club Charitable Trust 2012 Survey Report, 2012
  13. Attwood announces radical proposals for new drivers to improve road safety and reduce premiums, Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland) press release, 29 May 2012
  14. Russell KF et al, Graduated driver licensing for reducing motor vehicle crashes among young drivers, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 10. Art. No.: CD003300
  15. Kinnear N et al, Novice drivers – evidence review and evaluation, TRL, 2013
Updated December 2013