Much research over the years has shown that risky driving in young, inexperienced drivers significantly increases their chances of having a crash. And so it becomes relevant to ask -what can be done to reduce risk taking and also improve the opportunity for driving experience?
There are many suggestions for reducing risk taking. For example, encouraging P platers to reduce the number of peer passengers in the car during the first 12 months of driving. But what about those ‘advanced skills’ driving courses? Do they counter or in fact increase the risk?
We examine these issues in more detail and take a look at a course model which allows participants to learn how to protect themselves from real crashes, in real traffic situations.
The hard facts
Young drivers (17 to 24 years) are over-represented in road deaths. Young drivers represent 25% of all Australian road deaths while only being 10-15% of the licensed driver population1.
P-Plater drivers are estimated to be 33 times more likely to have a crash than L-plate drivers2 and the risk decreases (almost halves) over the first 6 to 8 months of post licence driving experience and goes down further with time3. The chart below shows the crash profile of new drivers.
( Monash University Accident Research Centre, 2007)
The most important factor in P-Plate crashes is inexperience combined with certain driving situations and not solely risk-taking/personality factors. In fact “of those who crash, it is estimated that between 50% and 70% are a result of skill errors attributed to a lack of experience.”4 Accordingly every P-plater is at risk!
Psychosocial influences on Young Drivers
i. High levels of anti-social behaviour and aggression and low levels of empathy were precursors to speeding
ii. Other characteristics which may influence driving behaviour are:
d. anger, and
e. risk aversion.
i. A recent study on south-east Queensland reported that peer pressure was the cause of 42% of careless driving during by 17-24 year olds.
ii. Parents also play a part – their driving behaviour can be imitated.
Mental health influences
i. Depression, disturbed sleep and poor concentration all of which impair thinks and co-ordination skills also contribute to risky driving.
ii. Young people who self-harm were at a 42% higher risk of a crash. There were also more likely to be involved in multiple vehicle crashes – possibly because they may deliberately try to injure themselves using a car.
Risky driving and its consequences
While inexperience is the primary reason why young drivers are over represented in road crashes, intentional and unintentional risk taking also plays a role. The combination of both risky driving and inexperience is lethal.
Risky driving in young, inexperienced drivers significantly increases their chances of having a crash. “Recent Australian studies have shown that self-reported risky driving behaviours are associated with significant increased risk of crashing in the first years of driving on a Provisional licence. In a study of over 20,000 young drivers in New South Wales, self-reported risky driving behaviours were associated with a 50% increase in the risk of crashing”5.
Driving risks include:
Legal driving situations
• Being distracted,
• Driving in poor weather conditions,
• Carrying multiple passengers (In Provisional drivers, the odds of crashing increase 50% when carrying one passenger, and more than double when carrying three or more passengers6),
• Night time driving (especially nearing midnight and into the early morning hours, and during these times on weekends7),
• Driving when tired (if a driver has not slept for 17 hours, his/her , driving ability is the same as a driver with 0.05% BAC8), and
• Driving on high speed roads.
Illegal driving situations
• Excessive speeding,
• Speeding for the thrill or driving too fast for the conditions,
• Driving too close to the car being followed,
• Mobile phone use (including texting) while driving (The risk of crashing when using a mobile phone increases four-fold, while the risk of driver death is between 4-9 times higher than when not using a phone. Young drivers are also more likely to be severely injured in a crash when distracted by a mobile telephone.9),
• Violating traffic rules, and
• Driving after alcohol intake (first year Provisional drivers are 3 times more likely to be injured in a crash if they have been drinking. The risk is greater for young drivers: drivers in their 20s have at least 5 times the risk of crashing compared to drivers in their 30s for all alcohol levels10).
And so it becomes relevant to ask what can be done to reduce risk taking and also improve the opportunity for driving experience?
Suggestions for parents to help reducing risk taking
Whilst the ability to manage the vehicle is attained in the Learner phase, this is just the beginning for becoming a safe driver. Here’s some tips for parents on reducing risk taking by new P platers:
• Discuss the importance of a P-plater being both a responsible driver and passenger.
• Reduce the number of peer passengers in the car during the first 12 months of the P-plate period.
• Limit your P-platers’ driving to less risky driving conditions in the first 12-months - this will reduce his/her risk of being involved in a crash, this may include limits to night driving.
• YOU are a major influence on the driving behaviour of your son/daughter so be aware of your own driving behaviours.
• Work out strategies so that your P-plater avoids driving when tired and or under the influence of alcohol.
• Encourage your P plater to avoid non-purposeful driving (ie cruising around) throughout the P-plate period as this often coincides with being distracted and showing off.
• Consider adopting the “Vehicle Access Agreement” included in the appendix.
• Occasionally supervise (be a passenger with your new P-plate driver). It’s a good way for him/her to gain experience in high-risk situations (refer to our article “Summer driving with L and new P Platers - A learning opportunity” as an example of an application of this idea) and to ensure that he/she still has good driving habits.
Do ‘advanced skills’ courses counter or increase risk in young drivers?
There is research that suggests that "advanced driver training" may in fact increase the risk of a crash. “A great concern in relation to driver education programs is regarding courses at specialty facilities that teach learners how to manage high speeds or get them into a skid and teach them how to correct it. While this “makes sense” as many young driver crashes involve loss of control, there have been very strong studies demonstrating that this approach is more likely to increase crash risk. When drivers feel confident in managing certain situations, they will no longer avoid those situations or just won’t slow down enough as they feel in control of the situation. This seems to be a particular concern for newly-licensed young drivers – if they don’t feel comfortable they will driver slower and take extra care and this is really what is needed. These “advanced skills” course can actually counter this caution and instead exposure the young driver to a higher crash risk.”11
Behaviour, cognition and emotion play an important role in driver safety
Because driving can never be totally safe, the best that a person can expect is to be safer than the ordinary driver. It is necessary to drive more cautiously. It’s what the driver does that changes the odds of crash occurrence.
It is generally agreed that behaviour, cognition and emotion are factors that will impact a new driver to be safer than an ordinary driver.
Because new P-plate drivers are inexperienced there is value in providing specific information about how to identify risks and best practice safe behaviours.
Driver cognition skills (comprising attentional skills and decision making skills) may be improved and therefore have a better understanding of how they relate to safer driving from advanced driver coaching. “Advanced driver coaching is founded on a system of car control. This is a structured and sequential heuristic that equips the driver to approach and negotiate hazards in such a way as to reduce risk (Coyne, 1994; IAM, 2004).12 Hazards are defined, somewhat extensively, as "anything which is potentially dangerous" (Coyne, 1994, p. 28). “
Finally, managing our emotions is important. Our emotions fuel our behaviours. Therefore managing our emotions in a positive way to maintain a low risk driving attitude.
Our ‘Advanced Low Risk Driving Course’ can help
The National Driving Academy has developed a Post licence “ADVANCED LOW RISK DRIVING COURSE” designed to pick up on where the driver training during the Learner phase finished, and ultimately aims to lower risk.
The course aims to allow participants to learn how to protect themselves from real crashes, in real traffic situations. The course is not designed to make drivers overly confident. The course is not conducted on a race track. The course is based on both classroom sessions and outside road for braking exercises and on a skid pan (using recycled water) to demonstrate car control on wet roads. The costs and benefits of risk taking are discussed and plans are devised to manage safety more effectively. The course helps new drivers know what to do, how to think and manage their emotions more effectively coupled with increased awareness of vehicle dynamics and crash avoidance.
The course covers:
• Understanding of how a driver’s attitudes, motivations, and risk taking behaviour can affect that driver’s safety and the safety of other road users.
• Basic vehicle dynamics including vehicle technology (ABT, SRS and ESP)
• Vehicle safety checks.
• Tyre selection and care.
• Crash Awareness – how to predict crashes so you can avoid them.
• Low risk driving - Raising the driver’s awareness of scanning, speed, reaction times and stopping distances.
• Correct system of vehicle control – seating, vision and steering.
• Correct braking techniques for both ABS and non-ABS vehicles.
• Skid causation, basic skid control and skid prevention.
• Alcohol and drug impairment impact on driving – using the Drunk Goggles.
• Road laws.
The Advanced Low Risk Driving course will be available to book on our website soon
The crash statistics clearly show that new P-plate drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes. The risk reduces substantially with the passage of time and the gaining of experience. We have set out strategies to reduce this risk during the first 6 to 12 months. It is also advisable for parents to take the opportunity to find opportunities to guide their new driver children in new and difficult situations, such as the Kings Highway summer trip.
All of these strategies will assist to reduce the risks for your P-plater. However in addition to this there is value in further post licence education focused on behaviour, cognition and emotion. National Driving Academy are introducing an Advanced Low Risk Driving course to pick up where the Learner phase finished.
Appendix: The Vehicle Access Agreement
from Monash University “Going Solo”
What is it?
The Vehicle Access Agreement is a formal agreement designed for parents and P-plate drivers for the first 12-months of the P-plate period.
Why have one?
It is a great idea to set up a Vehicle Access Agreement because this clearly sets out the roles of parents and P-plate drivers when it comes to either:
a) Borrowing the family car, or
b) The P-plate driver driving his/her own car for the first 12-months
Set up the Vehicle Access Agreement with your P-plate driver and decide what conditions will be included.
We strongly recommend the conditions for driving at night and driving with peer passengers be included in the agreement Include other conditions that you and your/son daughter deem relevant based on the high-risk situations discussed in this booklet, and your own particular situation. We recommend you use the three time frames set out in the example.
- Monash University Accident Research Centre “Going Solo – A resource for parents of P-plate Drivers” (2007)
- Paula Bradley, Young drivers: psychology helping to reduce crash risk (2003)www.psychology.org.au/publications/inpsych/crash/
- Paula Bradley (2003)
- Monash University (2007)
- Does Advanced Driver Coaching Improve Situational Awareness? Dr Guy H. Walker, Prof. Neville A. Stanton, Dr Tara A. Kazi and Dr Mark S. Young. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/retrieve/4071/license.txt