Chloe Allen

Chloe Allen

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Read time of 5 minutes.

A graduated driving licence (GDL) scheme has been put forward to parliament as a result of growing road safety concerns around young drivers. 

The New Drivers Act would put restrictions on newly qualified drivers for the first year after passing their test, including who is allowed to be in the car with them.

We all know it’s a big moment when the L plates finally come off.

It means an end to the stressful lessons, the nervy instructor and, of course, begging for lifts at a time in our lives when many of us are yearning for independence.

Whatever your age when you pass your test, a full licence means experiencing a new level of freedom you’ve never had before. You’ve finally proven you’re competent enough to be on the road without supervision.

And then it turns out you’re not really trusted behind the wheel after all.


The risk to new drivers.

Newly qualified drivers can get a bit of a bad rep.

According to studies, they make up only 6% of all drivers on the road – but they seem to get more flak than any other group for unsafe driving. This is because research suggests that new drivers are responsible for one in five roadside incidents.

But are they really that unsafe compared to everyone else?

According to road safety charity Brake, road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death globally among people aged 15-29 years. It’s a damning statistic, but there are a number of factors that makes young drivers more at risk. 

Their youth – particularly in the late teen years and early 20s – means they are more likely to take risks like dangerous overtaking and speeding. Meanwhile, inexperience means that recently qualified drivers (of any age) are less likely to anticipate and spot hazards on the road.

These two factors can prove to be a fatal combination for young, newly qualified drivers; Brake estimates that over 1500 young drivers are killed or seriously injured on UK roads every year – and such a high number can’t be ignored.

What are the common risky behaviours among young drivers?

Youth and inexperience make young people more likely to overestimate their driving ability – and underestimate the risks of dangerous driving.

They are more prone to excessive speeding, driving while drunk or under the influence of drugs, using their mobile phones while behind the wheel, and refusing to wear seat belts.

Though it goes without saying, this writer will state it anyway – all these behaviours raise the risk of a fatal roadside crash.

But it turns out peer pressure makes the risk even higher. An 18-year-old who has just passed their test is more likely to speed, or not wear their seat belt, when they have their friends in the car with them.

This is not because young people are actively encouraging each other to drive unsafely. But if you think back to being 18, you may remember showing off in front of your friends at times.

But the most dangerous time to show off is undoubtedly when getting into the driver’s seat.

The current rules.

If you get six points (or more) on your licence within two years of passing your test, you can safely kiss it goodbye. The DVLA will take it away from you.

You then have to reapply and pay for a new provisional licence, before retaking and passing your theory and practical exams again.

Harsh? Maybe. But some say this punishment doesn’t actually do enough to prevent a high-risk age group from getting into a collision.

If a driving offence requires a minimum of three points, this means you could offend more than once before any action is taken.

But with young people being statistically more prone to risky driving, they could cause a fatal traffic incident before they’re caught behaving badly.

What are the proposed changes?

It’s not the first time putting restrictions on young drivers has been suggested.

There was a previous attempt in 2013, which wanted provisional licences to only be issued for people aged 18 and up.

But there have been other proposed changes too, such as a mandatory 12-month learner period and a requirement for learners to clock over 100 hours of daytime driving experience with supervision – and a further 20 hours at night.

While more driving experience can only be for the better, driving lessons are already a huge expense for young people (and their parents). If you’re not personally prepared to supervise your teenager behind the wheel, 120 required hours of driving would result in a very steep bill at the end – and some simply wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Fortunately, the new proposal does have fewer financial implications for families.

The New Drivers Act would ban young people from offering lifts to passengers under the age of 25 for a full 12 months after gaining their licence. This would be part of a transition to a ‘graduated driving licence’ scheme.

The idea is to remove the influence of peer pressure to lower the risk for young people.

But some think these measures are not strict enough. Other recommendations include stopping new drivers from driving at night and using telematic-based insurance to monitor them behind the wheel.

So, what’s the problem?

The drawbacks.

While young drivers are a somewhat high-risk group, not all new drivers are reckless. Many young people are sensible, safe road users who never earn a single point on their licence.

Likewise, not all newly qualified drivers are teenagers and young people; many people don’t learn to drive until later in life, by which time they’ve matured considerably. A study estimates approximately 18% of drivers don’t qualify until reaching their 30’s or 40’s.

This passenger ban would make life a lot harder for them. Imagine telling someone well into adulthood that they can’t drive their children anywhere.

Another drawback – this proposal would seriously cut back on lift-sharing. Not only is it a great way to reduce emissions on the road, lift-sharing is something many young people rely on to get around.

Not everyone can afford to learn to drive (especially in their youth) and not everyone is lucky enough to have parents who are able to cart them around at the drop of a hat. In more rural areas where public transport is not easily accessible, getting a lift from a friend is often the only option.

This ban could stop them from getting to work or school. And if the stricter ban on driving at night makes its way in front of parliament? This could stop young people from getting jobs at all, because a lot of opportunities are in unsociable hours that fit around education.

So, while it seems like a sensible suggestion, this passenger ban does come with unfair drawbacks.

After all, no other age group is being targeted like this – even though studies show that elderly drivers are just as likely to cause a crash as teenager are.

But targeting young drivers is an easy way of appeasing road safety campaigners. Introducing a GDL scheme (or at least a passenger ban) may be cheaper and easier to do than repairing our pothole decimated roads, improving our cycle paths, or investing properly in public transport.

Is a graduated driving licence a good idea?

Whatever the pitfalls of the New Driver Act, it has come from a place of genuine concern for the safety of our young people when they are behind the wheel. And convenient target or not, something has to be done to tackle the issue.

All the cons of a passenger ban aside, graduated driving licences may be a good compromise.

The USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand all use Graduated Driving Licence schemes in some form.

These are intended to provide newly qualified drivers with driving experience and skills gradually in low-risk environments, usually moving from a learner’s permit, to a GDL, to a full licence.

GDLs do generally restrict night-time, motorway and unsupervised driving during the initial stages, but these restrictions are lifted as the learner is tested and gains more experience and confidence.

In other words, there’s a transition period between being a learner and having a full licence. This could be a good way for young drivers to get that crucial road experience which makes us better drivers, in a less risky environment.

A GDL scheme simply changes the way in which a full licence is achieved.

But it’s not the only option.

Some driving schools are convinced that young people should be having lessons at a younger age.

While you can’t take a car onto public roads until you are 17, some driving schools do offer private lessons to younger age groups on private land. These driving schools claim those students who have pre-17 lessons are statistically less likely to crash in the first 6 months after passing their test, than the national average.

In theory, if you already know how to drive when heading out with an instructor, then formal lessons can focus more on road safety and interacting with traffic. Perhaps allowing people to familiarise themselves with driving at an earlier age could be a good alternative to improve road safety.

Either way, both these options could address concerns that young people don’t necessarily get enough experience on the road before passing their tests.

We think it’s food for thought at the very least.

The outcome.

It’s clear that something in the status-quo needs to change.

We’re still waiting to hear what that change will be. The New Drivers Act was put before parliament on the 16th May 2023, but no outcome has been published yet.

Who knows? A GDL scheme could well be on the way.

Do you have a learner driver in the family? We can help.