The big driving story in the news today was the fact that 10000 motorists had been caught twice indulging in distracted driving, presumably the majority using their phone. Later I caught an item on the radio where they were interviewing a spokesman for BRAKE, the road safety charity and he immediately trotted out the fact about young drivers being responsible for x% of accidents while making up only y% of drivers. (I have deliberately left the numbers out!) Mr. Spokesman, you do yourself, the charity and road safety no favours whatsoever.
This particular problem has NOTHING explicitly to do with young drivers. I see lots of people using their phones while driving and the most numerous offenders are van drivers in their thirties. However, I have seen everyone from young drivers right through to old people on their phones. With the exception of van drivers, an awful lot of the offenders are women.
When it comes to the statistics that are quoted with such glee by those who wish to blame young drivers for all the ills on the roads it should be noted that meaningful statistics i.e., those which break down accidents by age group, severity and gender are only available since around 2005. How can we possibly compare statistics from then with statistics now? A lot has changed. Cars are safer, roads are safer, qualifications for driving have changed, training has changed, volumes of traffic etc. A 17 year old in 2005 is vastly different from a 17 year old in 2016. Someone who has their 17th birthday today was born LAST century.
When I passed, in 1977, the roads were nothing like they are today. The impression given is that somehow young drivers today are more reckless and dangerous today than they were 10, 15 or 30 years ago. The only comparison which is actually fair is to have a look at the statistics from 17 years ago and compare them to statistics for 34 year old drivers who are driving now – because they are the same drivers – the drivers who may well be those whose mobiles are stuck to their ears!
Furthermore, it is so unfair to compare a 17 year old driver now when they have to deal with higher volumes of vehicles, some of which are driven by people trained outside the UK to goodness knows what standard, vastly more complicated road junctions, busier roundabouts, increased legislation and signage, a general populace which treats the roads as a personal walkway and personal examples of driving which beggar belief at times. Societal traits such as instant gratification, impatience, intolerance for anyone or anything that gets in the way and a general superiority are all traits that seem to be infecting drivers of all ages.
Being an idiot behind the wheel is not something which is restricted to those under the age of 20. As instructors we teach a few idiots and a lot, an awful lot, of responsible, considerate, thoughtful, safe drivers in whose cars I would happily be a passenger. Idiocy can strike at any age and some of the cars I see being driven in a crazy manner are well outside the price range of the average 17 year old.
How on earth can we work out whether we are turning out good drivers now? The statistics certainly aren’t going to tell us – at least not for another 17 years – and then only if we look at the same drivers! When I look at the level of general education now compared to when I was at school, I feel as though I am looking down... as though I was educated better than young people are today. If the same is true of driving instruction (and there is no reason to suspect it isn’t) then I will always be a better driver than those who are taught now. This may sound conceited but I sincerely wish it wasn’t the case. My fervent hope is that all my pupils attain a better standard of driving than I have.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not condoning using a mobile when driving. It is unquestionably dangerous. In my opinion, anyone caught doing so should have their licence taken away for a month; second offence, 2 months and so on. Anyone who causes an accident while on their phone should be banned. Anyone who causes a death should be banned for life. This is not an issue which should be lessened by mitigation; there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever. It is fundamentally dangerous and as drivers we shouldn’t do it ever – and that includes when sitting at traffic lights too!
I’m also not saying that young drivers don’t have a significantly higher risk than other categories. They do, a fact that can be shown by statistics and is supported by the medical profession. I just don’t think that they should be blamed for anything and everything and used as an excuse for all the ills on the road.
I’m also not saying that we’re all bad drivers because that isn’t true either. However, if we do something wrong in sight of a young driver, can we really expect them not to copy us? They will and they will use our example to justify it. This is one situation where "do as I say, not as I do" doesn't carry any weight. The responsibility for safety on the roads lies with us all and we don’t need statistics to prove it!