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Young drivers: a significant step forward in Northern Ireland

James_Dalton_blogThis week the Northern Ireland Executive has taken a significant step forward in improving young driver safety by introducing a package of measures to change the way young people learn to drive.

While these measures fall short of the full reform needed, they should be welcomed by insurers, young drivers and road users in Northern Ireland. For too long politicians have failed to grasp the nettle of introducing meaningful changes to the driver testing and training system which for years has failed young people and all drivers alike.

Between 2004 and 2008, 17 to 24 year old drivers were responsible for 1 in 4 road fatalities and 1 in 5 of all road serious injuries in Northern Ireland. This amounts to a horrific 163 deaths and 1,237 serious injuries. The issues posed by young drivers are not unique to Northern Ireland (nor indeed Great Britain) nor are they a recent phenomenon. The over-representation of young drivers in road traffic crashes has been a feature of accident statistics for years and is a problem worldwide. What is unique in the remainder of the UK, however, is that, Governments have consistently failed to act. As a result the Northern Ireland Executive’s commitment to address the problem is a huge step in the right direction and sets an example for Scotland, England and Wales.

The key measures of the NI proposals include:

  • introducing a 12 month minimum learning period
  • developing a more structured syllabus
  • introducing a restricted phase where there is a limit of the number of passengers a new driver can carry
  • lowering the blood alcohol limit

These are all critical components of a graduated driver licensing (GDL) scheme and are designed to provide new drivers with driving experience and skills over a longer period of time.

If young driver road traffic crashes decrease, the risk they pose to an insurer decreases and insurance premiums for young drivers will follow.

The international evidence supporting the case for reform is overwhelming. In the US, a 2006 survey comparing States with the core elements of a GDL programme to those without reported 18% fewer fatal crashes involving young drivers. Since that study, all States in the US have now implemented some form of GDL. This is testament to the fact that GDL delivers results. A similar story exists in Canada, Australia and New Zealand where GDL schemes have been in use for many years.

If young driver road traffic crashes decrease, the risk they pose to an insurer decreases and insurance premiums for young drivers will follow. Premiums are driven less by the potential damage to a young driver’s car but the incredibly expensive personal injury claims that result from young driver road crashes which can easily run to millions of pounds. Insurers price risk; and with no faith in the driver testing and training system, an insurer being asked to provide car insurance to a young driver has no idea whether they are a safe driver or a road safety statistic waiting to happen.

Insurers want to see premiums for young drivers come down, but the only way this can happen is to help make them safer drivers. The key is to strike the right balance between maintaining young people’s ability to drive but ensuring that they are safe when they do. We are encouraged that the proposed in Northern Ireland reforms will reconcile these two objectives. Now is the time to make a real change for the better and we look forward to continued positive working with all those with an interest in improving road safety to ensure that the young drivers of today become the safer, older drivers of tomorrow.

James Dalton is Assistant Director, Head of Motor and Liability, Association of British Insurers. 

Last updated 29/06/2016