Another Driving Story

Following on from yesterday’s nonsense about older drivers we have another call from the righteous to restrict drivers.

Newly qualified young drivers should be banned from night-time motoring and carrying passengers of a similar age, Cardiff University researchers say.

They said such “graduated driver licensing” for those aged 17-24 could save more than 200 lives and result in 1,700 fewer serious injuries each year.

Really? And how, exactly will they learn to drive at night if they don’t do it? And if they cannot carry passengers, when exactly will we allow them to do it? The day after I passed my test, I took my father’s MGB out with my mother and sister. It wasn’t at night, thank God or there might have been carnage. It seems that once more we have an example of rent seeking going on.

How precisely will drivers graduate? Will it be a further test or will it merely be the passage of time? Some drivers pass a test and drive very little thereafter, so what makes them suddenly capable of driving at night or driving with passengers of their own age after, say, two years if they haven’t driven in that period? What about those who drive a lot in that period? Why should they wait? If it’s another test, will examiners be doing night shifts now?

Now, there might be a case for graduating licensing in sensible steps. We already have something in place for motorcycles. Okay, so it’s a botched attempt, but the logic behind it had some merit – i.e. that a novice rider starts with something of moderate power and performance and graduates to larger, more powerful machines as experience and confidence increases. Unfortunately this started with a ban on learners using 250cc machines back in the early nineteen eighties. The government of the day clearly didn’t think about unintended consequences. Once learners were restricted to 125cc machines, the manufacturers promptly produced faster 125s. So, ideal learner bikes with good mid-range performance and softly tuned engines such as the Honda CB250 RS were illegal and the bike equivalent of the hot hatch was okay. What did they do? They then brought in horsepower restrictions making the bikes under perform for their capacity. So what seemed a sensible idea on the surface was, in fact, cockwaffle of the highest order.

All of that said, new drivers should graduate steadily from moderately performing vehicles to the more powerful ones as they gain experience. By and large insurance companies already effectively enforce this. Try getting fully comp insurance for a young male driver for even a low performance bottom of the range hatch-back such as a Ford Fiesta and you will get the idea.

They also want a total ban on alcohol for young drivers. Ahem… There is already a restriction on alcohol. If they cannot effectively enforce this, how will they enforce total abstinence on young drivers?

But motoring organisations say the limits – which could last up to two years – would be difficult to enforce.

Well, quite. And who will do the enforcing? And how will they justify stopping drivers and checking?


While road deaths have now fallen to an all-time low, 2,222 people still died on the roads last year.

Ah, so despite road deaths falling, we get a knee jerk reaction that is yet another example of policy based evidence generation.

The AA point out some perfectly sensible reasons why this is a bad idea:

But the head of road safety at the AA, Andrew Howard, suggested while there would be benefits to graduated driver licensing, they could be outweighed by the disadvantages.

He said it could penalise those who work at night and need to drive, while police may struggle to crack down on those who flout the rules.

Again, quite. And again, will we see police stopping young drivers at random to check?

A spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents also cast doubt over whether the scheme could be properly enforced.

She said she wanted to see more evidence about how it would work in the UK, adding that improving education and awareness with further training for new drivers might be more beneficial.

Evidence? You’ve some hope. The righteous don’t worry about evidence.

And, as is usual with these stories, they wheel out a bereaved relative to give a bit of “balance” to the story.

Terry Jones’ daughter, Louise, 16, was killed with three of her teenage friends in Powys in 2006, in a car driven by an 18-year-old man who had just passed his test.

“They should abolish the driving test completely.

These children are not being taught how to drive at all, they are being taught how to pass a test.

Instead, there should be a driving log – similar to aircraft – where learners have to log 200 hours with an experienced motorist.

They should drive at night, in the sunshine, in rain, snow, ice, on the motorway – under instruction at all time.

There should also be limitations on the number of passengers.

And parents have got a big part to play… some of these 17-year-olds are driving brand new cars.

Personally I think if these children go out and kill, and parents have bought the car, the parents should be charged with accessory to manslaughter, just the same as the driver.”

Oh, my… Look, no policy should be based on the opinions of the recently bereaved. They are not thinking rationally and Terry Jones is no exception. The current testing regime is pretty poor, but there should still be a final test of competence following whatever period of training is imposed. The French system of conduite accompagnée works well. While it is similar to Jones’ idea of accompanied driving, it still involves a formal assessment of competence before a license is issued – and if Jones thinks pilots are let loose without formal training and assessment he is not living on the same planet as the rest of us.

As for the risible idea of charging parents who bought a car as accessories to manslaughter, for fuck’s sake! It is because of this unthinking stupidity driven by grief that we should not be taking notice of the opinions of the bereaved relatives when discussing these issues.

Still, if you listen to the “experts” at the University of London, we should be driving at 20mph in “deprived zones”.

University of London experts will also put the case for more 20mph zones, arguing it could help reduce injuries – particularly in deprived areas.

Their research will show that those in deprived areas are twice as likely to be killed or injured than those in affluent areas.

These folk won’t be happy until all vehicles are restricted to walking pace with a man walking in front with a red flag. People will still get killed, though.

Good driving involves the driver making an accurate assessment of the hazards and adjusting the vehicle’s speed as appropriate. This obsession with speed now means that drivers spend more time worrying about their speed and not enough on the road ahead. You only have to observe the Mexican wave effect if they think they are likely to get flashed for speeding. Speed should be appropriate for the conditions and sometimes those conditions require 20mph. Sometimes it is safe to travel at three-figure speeds. The driver is best placed to make that decision at the time, not the University of London.

Meanwhile, the Tune into Traffic campaign group will stress the dangers of listening to music while driving and walking.

Oh, my word… Today a campaign. Tomorrow we will have someone, somewhere calling for legislation, won’t we?


  1. “And parents have got a big part to play… some of these 17-year-olds are driving brand new cars”

    Yeah, it’s disgusting. They should have old cars. They’re much safer.

    What’s going on there, some kind of left-wing envy thing?

    “Personally I think if these children go out and kill, and parents have bought the car, the parents should be charged with accessory to manslaughter, just the same as the driver.”

    It’s not Terry Jones’ fault that the BBC have put him forward as an authority on these matters in his time of grief, and I have every sympathy with him. I expect I would say stupid things in his situation. However, he clearly accepts that these are children and the parents are responsible, so I have to ask – who is responsible for allowing his 16-year old daughter to be driven around by a testosterone-fuelled inexperienced child, if not her parents?

  2. I expect I would say stupid things in his situation.

    Probably best not to say it to the media, though. That way the media don’t have a ready to hand idiotic quote. If only, eh? I have a personal policy of never talking to the media about anything. On the few occasions when I’ve been asked, I’ve flatly refused. That policy will continue.

    Good point about Jones’ responsibility regarding his daughter. But parents have to let them grow and that involves risk. How would he have known that the driver would have an accident?

  3. If a large number of new drivers really are crashing ‘at night’ soon after passing their tests then the training they have and the test they pass needs looking at – not further restrictions on otherwise qualified drivers.

  4. There’s an argument for a broader scope in driver training and assessment. Something similar to the French system would be a start. Possibly a staggered assessment to cover a range of differing situations?

    Dr Sarah Jones – Cardiff University researcher and Terry Jones, bereaved parent, Powys.

    Any connection?


  5. In the days of burgeoning unemployment, we should definitely consider reintroducing the Locomotive Acts. Having to carry a stoker and having someone with a red flag proceeding 60 yards ahead of the vehicle would do much to contain these menaces.

  6. Longrider said:

    Good point about Jones’ responsibility regarding his daughter. But parents have to let them grow and that involves risk. How would he have known that the driver would have an accident?

    I totally agree. But by the same token, how did the parents who bought the car know their child would have an accident?

    You don’t have to do any research or have a bunch of statistics to hand to know that an 18-year old boy with a car full of 16-year old girls is a risky proposition on the road. You just need to have been one. I wasn’t suggesting he shouldn’t have accepted the risk – as a parent you have to accept risks all the time, as you say. But when you accept a risk, you should take responsibility when the outcome isn’t the one you hoped for, rather than trying to blame someone else. Usually a tragic accident is just that – a tragic accident.

  7. I totally agree. But by the same token, how did the parents who bought the car know their child would have an accident?

    They couldn’t, which is why Jones’ comments were nonsensical. Parents who buy a decent, moderately powered vehicle for their offspring are not responsible for the way in which it is ultimately driven – they cannot exercise that level of control. It’s the same problem faced by employers who hand over the keys to works vehicles to employees.

  8. why are there so many ‘tragic accidents’ ? Each weekend sees more patches of hedgerow destroyed locally…. each roughly Saxo sized and situated on the exit from a bend… or a few dozen yards down the road. One can chart the car’s progress by the scuffs taken out of the banks.
    I and many competent drivers have managed not to go through hedges, so why… when a new teenage driver does it is it a tragic accident?… tragic I will grant but an accident is an unpredictable event. The demise of incompetent young drivers racing around country lanes showing off is no accident…. it is entirely predictable.

  9. I think there is some sort of road safety conference going on in London this week – hence all the daft stories coming up on the Beeb.
    Yep, young lads will always find ways of killing themselves, whether it be cars, bikes or diving off cliffs – it’s just what they do. I agree that it’s a shame when they take others with them, especially those not in the car who had no say in the matter at any point. But I’m not altogether sure how additional training can change the effects of testosterone in a horny youth.

  10. Some of them will benefit from the improved skills. That is better then nothing. New drivers are vulnerable until they develop experience. Training can help fill that gap. You mentioned police training – they expect you to get out there and get a move on. Young drivers would benefit from being taught how to drive quickly safely. On the few occasions when I got people to take motorway lessons, I saw a dramatic improvement over the couple of hours or so that we spent travelling at 70mph.

  11. I mentioned the Police training on the last entry as something that a returnee to motorcycling might take up.
    There is already something called “Pass-Plus” which recently qualified drivers can take – perhaps some form of insurance reduction may work as bait to encourage a higher take-up.

  12. You don’t have to be a returnee to benefit – anyone can benefit from being observed by a police class 1 rider or driver. Unfortunately, it’s usually preaching to the converted.

    Pass-Plus tends to have a poor take-up. Insurers are supposed to take extra training into account, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. I get a small discount form my IAM certificate – but I took that in 1980. How are they supposed to know if I’ve kept it up in the meantime?

  13. The first piece of driving I did after passing my test 12 years or so back was for the Pass-Plus which gave me some exposure to driving at night, on motorways and country roads and in crappy weather whilst having the instructor in the car. I consider that money well spent as I’m not sure I would have wanted to go into such situations for the first time without the benefit of some advice on how to manage.

    It didn’t apparently though make a lot of difference to the hike in the insurance premium when I was added as a named driver to the family run-around.

  14. Not at all. Wreck the family run-around? That wouldn’t have gone down well! The only scrape I recall in that car was busting the front driver’s side light when I misjudged how badly parked a van was on the industrial estate where I was working one summer.

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