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Helping young drivers stay safe behind the wheel

9 November 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

With a high rate of young drivers being involved in car crashes, are defensive driving courses the answer?

The first years of driving solo are the most dangerous. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development says the highest period for risk in Australia is shortly after licensure and continues up to the age of 24.

It's estimated that P-plate drivers are 33 times more likely to be involved in an accident than learner drivers. In the first year of driving, young Victorians are almost four times more likely to be involved in a fatal or serious injury crash than more experienced drivers.

Drivers aged 18 to 25 years old are involved in 28 per cent of fatalities in Victoria while they make up only 14 per cent of all drivers. In NSW, new P-platers are nine times more likely to be involved in a crash, with young drivers making up 24 per cent of all crashes, for just 16 per cent of all drivers.

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So what are the best ways to protect our young drivers? A graduated driving system - where drivers pass from an accompanied learner phase through a provisional license to driving alone - is in place in all Australian States and Territories but is it enough? Should P-Platers and drivers under 25 attend defensive driving courses?

The debate about the effectiveness of post-licence driver education programs has raged worldwide since the 1980s, and we are still waiting for answers.

Research has shown links between graduated driver licensing and the importance of parenting style.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau review showed the main problems younger drivers have are lack of experience, limited ability and judgement, underestimation of risks, risk-taking behaviour and using alcohol and drugs.

Meanwhile, other research has shown links between graduated driver licensing and the importance of parenting style (for example being careful not to model risky behavior with your kids in the car) in minimising the chances of young drivers being involved in car accidents.

The main difference between the graduated licensing system and a defensive driving course is that the latter is defined as being aimed at drivers who already have their licence, and need help assessing and avoiding critical situations.

However, contemplating the likelihood of unexpected hazards has now become a tested section for a NSW driver's licence. A 2011 New Zealand study found that new drivers are most at risk of having a crash because they lack "higher order" skills, such as hazard perception, risk reduction, visual searching, situational awareness and they have over-confidence in their skills and underestimation of the complexity involved in driving.

In the first year of driving, young Victorians are almost four times more likely to be involved in a fatal or serious-injury crash than more experienced drivers.

Opposing views?

While the overall jury is still out, those who disagree with the benefits of defensive driving, say the evidence doesn't show it makes young drivers safer. The concern is that learning crash avoidance skills, with braking and swerving techniques is an "obsolete and dangerous practice". However, those in favour compare defensive driving courses with pilots' training, where hours are spent mastering possible emergency situations. They also stress that drivers are not taught racing techniques.

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