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James Dalton speech at Post Magazine Claims Conference


Good morning and thank you to Post Magazine and Incisive Media for the invitation to be with you today to discuss one of the key reforms we at the ABI have campaigning on for some time. The issue of improving road safety outcomes for young drivers – that is drivers aged between 17 and 24.

So today I want to talk through the nature of the problem, what the ABI on behalf of the insurance industry are advocating and pose a challenge to society about the need for change and the price of inaction.

The nature of the problem

All the academic studies, all the international evidence and all the numbers indicate that young people are much more likely to kill or injure themselves and other road users when driving.

Every year, far too many friends and families are forced to deal with the horrific consequences of the UK’s overly permissive driver testing and training regime.

It seems trite to reduce these tragedies to statistics but it is the best way to communicate the nature of the problem society needs to grapple with:

  • The biggest single cause of accidental death among young people aged 15-24 is dying in a car crash
  • In 2011, almost 5500 people were killed or seriously injured as a result of accidents involving a young driver
  • 40% of 17 year old men have a crash in their first six months of driving

Unfortunately when we talk about serious injuries – in insurance terminology, catastrophic claims -  we are talking about very serious injuries indeed. From tetraplegia to brain damage to blindness. Again, the statistics bear this out:

  • A 17-24 year old driver with less than two years driving experience is three times more likely to make a catastrophic claim than a 37-44 year old with the same level of experience. This indicates that it is the age of the driver and not their driving experience that is the key factor determining the likelihood of a crash
  • Young drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a catastrophic claim compared with all drivers over 25
  • Drivers aged 17-24 make up 31% of all catastrophic injury claims yet represent only 12% of drivers.

Fundamentally, the ABI is looking to do something about these awful road safety outcomes for young people.

We recognise that motor insurance is a compulsory purchase. We recognise that the ability of young people to drive is key to their social and economic participation in society. And we recognise that in tough economic times, the high and increasing premium rates for young drivers are a cause of real concern.

Insurers don’t create the society in which we live. They hold up a mirror to it and price their policies accordingly. And the mirror reflects a society that continues to allow a highly liberal free for all when it comes to young drivers’ testing and training. And that free for has catastrophic results for a few and expensive premiums for too many. 

But the insurance industry is in a position to affect real and meaningful change.

As an industry we have been - and always will be - committed to ensuring that those injured in car crashes receive the compensation and support that they need as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Our work to see the young driver testing and training system changed is not just about an industry looking to save some money. Naturally, if there are fewer tragedies involving young drivers there will be fewer claims for insurers to pay. That’s a given.

What the ABI’s Safe Young Driver campaign is about is the insurance industry taking a thought leadership role on a public policy problem that successive Governments have swept under the carpet for far too long.

Our campaign is about explaining that the high insurance premiums young drivers are asked to pay is simply a reflection of the risk they pose.

Our campaign is about getting politicians, the media, the Police and young people themselves to stand with us to make the case for reform.

But fundamentally our campaign is about action, delivery and change.

Change in attitude, change in policy and most importantly of all, change in the road safety outcomes for young drivers.

The ABI’s Proposals

We continue to make the case for change that we know works. And we know that our proposals will work because all the evidence available from similar schemes internationally demonstrates that they will. Countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have all introduced sensible measures that have improved the safety of young drivers.

New Zealand is a country I know reasonably well. Just like in the UK now, car crashes were a leading cause of death and serious injury amongst young people. But the New Zealand Government recognised the need to change and in the 1980s introduced a complete overhaul of the way young people learnt to drive. So when I started learning to drive - more years ago than I care to remember - it was completely accepted by my friends and I that we were not allowed to drive at certain times of the day or with passengers in our cars.

Other countries have changed and so can the UK. And it is encouraging that, after years of inaction, Ministers are now taking a closer look at our ideas.  The Transport Secretary and Road Safety Minister are listening.

So what is it that we would like to see?

A 12 month minimum learning period

We understand the reasons young people end up having crashes. For example: 

  • We know that drivers aged 17-24 are three times more likely to be involved in a crash resulting from excessive speed than a driver aged over 25
  • We know that 17-24 year old drivers are three times more likely to lose control and crash than drivers agenda over 25 
  • And we know that a driver aged 17-24 is twice as likely to have a crash in wet conditions than a driver aged over 25.

So given what we know, we have proposed that young drivers should learn to drive over a 12 month period. This will expose them to all of the challenges drivers face - whether that is driving on a motorway or a country road, in snowy or icy conditions in the winter or in the blinding sunlight of one of those rare summer days.

The 12 month minimum learning period could be underpinned by a log-book approach to learning where young people record their achievement of learning to drive in a range of conditions.

The question I am often asked when I mention log-book learning is that this would be open to fraud. I don’t disagree. But it is not beyond all those with an interest in road safety working together to develop a system that can work. And given most people learn to drive with some assistance from a driving instructor; they will have an important role to play. Most young people want to be safe drivers. And most parents want their kids to be safe drivers. So I think a voluntary log-book offers a more structured approach to learning than we currently have, it encourages responsible learning and it complements a 12 month minimum learning period.

In direct contrast, intensive driver training courses send young people the message that learning to drive is easy and can be completed over a couple of sessions with an instructor. That message completely undermines the importance of young people taking personal responsibility for actually learning how to drive safely rather than simply learning to pass their practical test. So we want to see these “crash courses” for learning to drive banned. And it is not lost on most people that those who argue that a minimum learning period of 12 months will not work are often the same people flogging intensive driver training courses to young people.

A lowering of the driving age to 16.5 years

In order to make the slightly bitter pill of a 12 month minimum learning period taste better, we have proposed that the age at which young people can start learning to drive be reduced from 17 to 16.5 years of age. This is a key component of what we are advocating and it provides a benefit to young drivers of the package of reforms we are proposing. To be clear: reducing the driving age to 16.5 is a complement to the minimum 12 month learning period. Implemented in isolation, reducing the driving age is likely to send young drivers road safety statistics in exactly the wrong direction. 

A lowering of the blood alcohol concentration for young drivers

We would like to see a lowering of the blood alcohol concentration allowed for young drivers.
Again, this is about messaging. We send the wrong message to young people that they can have a pint and then get in a car when they are still learning to drive. So we have proposed a lowering of the alcohol limit to 20mg of alcohol per 100mL of blood. This is a de facto zero limit which allows young drivers not to be penalised for using mouthwash or eating their grandma’s trifle – both of which contain trace amounts of alcohol.

Restrictions on passengers

Driving requires maximum attention to the road whether you are aged 45 or 17. The difference at 17 though is that the presence of friends in a car while driving leads to younger drivers losing concentration, becoming easily distracted and taking more risks.

A study released in early 2012 highlighted the strong correlation between the number of passengers in a car and the risk of a young driver dying in a crash.

More recent work has found that young drivers carrying two young passengers are twice as likely to be killed in a crash as those driving alone; and they are four times more likely to die if they are driving with three young passengers.

We are proposing, therefore, that a newly qualified driver aged under 25 should not be allowed to carry passengers in their car. This restriction would last for a period of six months after the driver has passed their practical test.

The restriction would not apply if there is a sober, supervising passenger, aged over 21 and who had held a full driving licence for three years.

This is not about the industry trying to stop young people from driving with their friends over the long-term. It is a balanced and proportionate proposal designed to enable young people to continue to learn to drive safely in the six month period immediately after they have passed their driving test.

And it is not as if this proposal is somehow revolutionary. Canada operates a system that limits the number of passengers a young driver can carry, as do New Zealand and Australia. And the reforms that have been proposed in Northern Ireland will also limit the number of passengers a young person can carry in the immediate post-test period.

Restrictions on night time driving

We know that driving late at night is a key risk factor for young driver road crashes. The Department for Transport’s own data indicates that for crashes involving death or serious injury, 50% involved a 17-19 year old male driver driving at night, as did 40% of crashes for female drivers in the same age band.

So the final proposal we have put forward is that young drivers should be restricted from driving between 11 at night and 4 in the morning.

As with our proposed restrictions on the number of passengers, exemptions could be applied as endorsements on a driver’s licence. For example, if a young person needed to drive in order to get to work or school.

In this way, we are seeking to maintain a focus on interventions that we know will work in improving road safety whilst recognising that some young people will need to drive at night.

Much like the existing Motor Insurers Database - where police officers are able to call a helpline to discover if a vehicle is insured - in the future, the Police should be able to check easily whether or not a young driver has an endorsement for driving at night through the DVLA database.

The challenges to the ABI’s proposals

The proposals we have advanced are an integrated package of measures, backed by robust evidence, underpinned by the experiences in other countries and carefully balanced to introduce incentives as well as imposing restrictions.

They are not a policy pick and mix. Implementing one or two of the proposals in isolation risks making road safety outcomes for young drivers worse rather than better.

We have referred to our proposals as a form of graduated driver licensing as that’s what the package of reforms have been called in other jurisdictions. Some people don’t like term “graduated driver licence” or the “GDL” label. Frankly I don’t care what it is called. What I care about is making a difference and improving road safety outcomes for young people.

In addition to some people not liking the name, perhaps not surprisingly, there are some people who disagree with the ABI’s proposals.

Some argue that the rules could not be enforced so there is no point in implementing them. This ignores three key things.

Firstly, most young people are responsible and law-abiding citizens. If they know that the law says they cannot drive at night or with passengers – they will obey the law. Parents will also have a role to play in ensuring that they know what the rules are when their children get in the car to drive. And they need to enforce those rules if necessary.

Secondly, a number of driving rules are already, to a large degree, self-enforcing. Most people know that they have to wear a seatbelt, can’t use a mobile phone while driving and that they have to adhere to the posted speed limits. For those that can’t adhere to the rules, there are sanctions – whether that is fines, penalty points or losing your licence. And sanctions would need to underpin the proposals for reform of the young driver testing and training system that the ABI is advocating.

Thirdly, and perhaps most fundamentally, the Police – who would after-all be doing the enforcement – do not think that enforcing the rules we have proposed would be any more difficult than enforcing any other road rules. 

The next challenge people put up to the proposals is that they are they are too onerous and impinge on the civil liberties of young drivers.

Personally, I find this wholly unconvincing. It is usually an argument advanced by those who haven’t done the research, ignore the facts and evidence or who are quick to criticise the ideas of others yet come up with no proposals of their own.

Again, just look off-shore. The international models in place across the world show that the blockers can be overcome and meaningful change can be made.

Young Drivers in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia all face a short period of post-test restrictions. It’s not revolutionary, it’s the norm. And if the United States can overcome arguments based on civil liberties, I’m sure we can do the same on this side of the Pond.

Finally, let’s not forget the views of young drivers. ABI research conducted by YouGov has shown that many young drivers are supportive of our proposals. Young drivers understand the issues and by continuing to work with them, we’re confident that we can increase the level of support for change amongst young people.

The impact on young driver premiums

It always amazes me that whenever I discuss the ABI’s proposals for change, one of the first questions people ask is what the impact on young drivers’ insurance premiums will be. It is as if people seem to forget that what we are talking about is the death and injury of young people. That somehow, we should only do something to stop those deaths and injuries if insurance premiums come down.

But in the context of an environment where people focus simplistically on the cost of young driver insurance premiums rather than stopping to ask why the price is high, the industry has a role to play in seeking to quantify the impact of our proposals should they be adopted.

That is a complex and difficult exercise to undertake. It is asking the industry to price a hypothetical in an underwriting and claims environment that it highly competitive and fluid.

But we recognised that if we wanted to make real traction with our reform proposals, we needed to take on the challenge. We hope to be in a position in the coming weeks to provide - for the first time – an indication of the magnitude of the reduction in premiums it might be possible to achieve for young people – a group that continues to be hit hard by unemployment and the cost of living.


The proposals we have put forward are only part of the work we are doing to improve our industry’s offering to young drivers.

There are a number of insurance providers now offering telematics-based insurance policies – many of which are specifically targeted at young drivers. These policies use technology to monitor driver behaviour, often adjusting premiums or providing other incentives based on that feedback. And telematics offers young people more choice in the insurance products they can purchase.

The industry is often told that it has to do more in terms of improving its telematics offering to young drivers as if telematics is the answer to the problem of young driver crash statistics. High insurance premiums for young people are an issue – there is no doubt about that. But as I said at the beginning, the high insurance premiums faced by young drivers are simply the insurance industry reflecting the risks they pose. If telematics was the solution, every young driver in the country would choose a telematics-based insurance policy. They don’t. The safer young drivers will. But they probably posed a lower risk in the first place.

So as the industry continues to respond to consumer demand by innovating and developing new product offerings, the number of telematics based insurance options will increase. And those options will complement the conventional insurance policies that continue to provide the flexibility and choice that young people demand. 

The ABI has an important role to play in ensuring that the role of telematics is understood, that the data protection and conduct issues are considered and that data ownership does not act as an inhibitor to consumers switching providers should they wish to.

So, although telematics may have some impact on premium rates, the underlying problem remains the liberal young driver testing and training regime.


So in conclusion, the ABI’s proposals for reform of the young driver testing and training system are fundamentally about improving road safety outcomes.

How many more young people will die before something is done? That is not a question for me to answer - society needs to address that.

And society needs to have a debate about the extent to which it wants to reduce death and serious injuries suffered by young people. About the extent of the limits that should be imposed on young people when they are learning to drive and in the immediate post-test period. And about the extent to which the price of car insurance for young people should outweigh road safety considerations.

Other countries have led the way. It is time for the UK to follow. It is possible to reform. And it is possible to change. And most importantly of all it is possible for the UK to have Safe Young Drivers – hence the name of our campaign.

Thank you.

Last updated 01/07/2016