The driving test is something that all generations of potential drivers since the mid-‘Thirties have had to contend with. Adaptations and changes have constantly evolved the test so that many who first took it would hardly recognise it today. The flexibility and adaptability of the driving test to reflect the changes in vehicle technology and road conditions is crucial, however, there’s still plenty of room for further changes.
With our climate seemingly shifting to feature more extreme seasonal weather for example, there are currently voices calling for a minimum 12-month learning period. This suggestion would see learners taking their lessons in all seasons and would therefore include instruction on driving safely in poor grip/visibility conditions. Are these measures really needed? Well if the latest cold weather period is anything to go by, then yes is definitely the answer.
The recent spate of poor weather has highlighted the lack of preparation and driving ability in low grip as recovery companies and breakdown firms have been inundated. In fact, the AA has been responding to approximately 1000 calls per hour across the country since our first snow fall (January 14) with an astonishing 8000 calls received by noon on January 14. The RAC has recorded similar figures with 9000 breakdowns expected by the end of this latest cold snap. Police figures paint a similarly grim picture with Norfolk Police recording 63 crashes across the county in less than 12 hours.
THE EUROPEAN MODEL
Many EU countries that regularly experience poor weather conditions have implemented a low grip element to their driving tests. Sweden, for example, makes its learner drivers undertake a day on a skid pan, where they are encouraged to make the car spin and regain control before they are allowed to pass their practical test. This is a common element across Scandinavian and some mainland EU states.
Saving Kids and Inexperienced Drivers (SKID), a Neighbourhood Watch supported UK campaign has been working to change the driving test and learning procedures since 2007. It suggests a minimum of 50 hours learning before a practical test can be applied for, and a minimum of six months provisional licence entitlement before the test can be taken. However, despite these suggestions, there’s still no mention of any low grip training.
In fact skid pan training has been available privately for a long time, but obviously is optional and therefore carries an additional charge. A revolutionary programme in Scotland has just been launched this week and is being spearheaded by former British Touring Car Championship winner, John Cleland. The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) Young Driver Support Programme will begin this Sunday (January 27) and will give young and inexperienced drivers (under the age of 26) focused tuition. Although only available in the Borders region, and to young drivers who already possess a driving licence, it’s a step in the right direction and is just one of many courses aimed at improving the standard of newly passed drivers.
Often the blame for road deaths is levelled at young men who drive recklessly once they pass their test. The figures speak for themselves with 17- to 24-year old men being 70 per cent more likely to have a serious accident than women of the same age. Further to this, a young driver or passenger between the ages of 16-19 is killed every day on UK roads. Of the fatal accidents involving young drivers that occur every year, around 40 per cent take place in wet weather conditions, highlighting a potential lack of driving experience in low grip conditions.
These figures are certainly painting a horrific picture of young driver inadequacy behind the wheel, but rather than frequently blaming the driver (the easiest option) why aren’t we looking to the instructor? These drivers are passing the theory and practical tests, but are often clueless when the weather is less than perfect and seem to completely forget the highway code once out on their own. Whether an instructor is simply teaching to pass a test or trying to instil a sense of responsibility and maturity in a young driver are two very different things.
Of the UK’s 340 test centres less than half record a pass rate of over 50 per cent. Obviously there are many factors involved in this and figures alone should not be relied upon, but this does suggest the levels of driving instruction is at least one factor that should be addressed. In fact the Department for Transport’s figures show an alarming lack of quality instruction in North East London, where a staggering 71.5 per cent of test applicants fail. So before we turn to the same old scapegoat of young drivers being reckless, perhaps we should dig a little deeper and discover that instruction quality, the lack of a car control element to the current driving test, and no provision for all-season driving, may also be to blame for our youth accident figures.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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