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Road Traffic Accidents and Brain Injury: Will Drivers Licensing Restrictions Reduce Brain Injuries in the Under 25s?

Road Traffic Accidents and Brain Injury: Will Drivers Licensing Restrictions Reduce Brain Injuries in the Under 25s?

Recently publicised in the press has been the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) research commissioned on behalf of the Department of Transport.

The report was launched as a result of an increase in casualty figures produced in 2011 for young people aged between 17 and 25 years of age. The figures indicated that a fifth of people seriously injured in road traffic accidents involved a driver of one of the cars who was under 24 years of age.

There is also a direct correlation to such road traffic collisions and brain injury. In the UK approximately one million people attend hospital every year as a result of a brain injury of some form. Road traffic accidents account for 50% of all traumatic brain injuries suffered in the UK. The risk of suffering a brain injury is greatest in young people between the ages of 15 and 19 years, the age where young people currently learn to drive.


The TRL has identified several recommendations that aim to reduce the number of novice drivers involved in road traffic collisions.

At the centre of the recommendations were proposals that the UK system should operation a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) which is currently in operation in Northern Ireland, some states in the USA and also in Australia. It also operates for all motorcyclists within the UK.

A GDL scheme would involve:

  • 12 month learner stage beginning at age 17 (i.e. motorists would be unable to take their tests until aged 18 years).
  • A requirement for least 100 hours of daytime and 20 hours of night time supervised practice before they are able to pass their driving test.
  • During the 12-month minimum probationary licence the driver would be required to display a green ‘P’ plate to identify their licence status and aid the enforcement of restrictions.
  • A night time driving curfew from 10pm to 5am, unless accompanied by a passenger aged over 30 years, and a ban on carrying passengers under 30 years old for all novice drivers aged under 30 years.
  • In addition a ban on any mobile phone use including hands-free kits and a lower alcohol limit should be considered.
  • On completion of these minimum requirements and the current Driving Standards Agency testing regime, i.e. the theory and practical tests, a driver would then be permitted to progress to a ‘probationary’ licence (the restricted stage) from age 18.
  • After the 12-month probationary licence drivers would automatically graduate to a Full licence and unrestricted driving.

The Department of Transport figures suggest that young drivers account for approximately 5% of journeys driven in Britain but are involved in around 20% of crashes where someone is killed or seriously injured. This illustrates the severity of the current situation and the need for action to be taken immediately.

The Association of British Insurers told MPs that 50,000 17-year-olds pass the driving test with less than six months’ driving experience every year. It then follows that if the learning and test period is during the summer months, drivers may possibly obtain a full licence without having driven in the dark or in very poor road conditions. This is considered to have had an increase on the number of accidents and therefore the recommendation for a minimum number of hours of supervised practice would go some way to eliminating this issue.

Headway, the brain injury association has shown its full support for the introduction of such a scheme. Jane Clark, Chair of Headway South Bucks, commented:

“This is a common sense initiative that could reduce the individual tragedy and societal burden of serious brain injury to our young people”.

The report suggests implementing this new system could cut annual casualty numbers by 4,471 and save £224 million.

There have been concerns raised in respect of the implementation of these proposals. It is argued that the introduction of such a system will have a negative effect on youth mobility and employment. The system would particularly have an impact in rural areas where public transport access is limited.

There is also concern over the cost to new drivers in undertaking further professional lessons and complying with the additional probationary stages when young people already have to contend with the cost of living on a lower wage and the possibility of educational fees.

Edmund King, president of motoring organisation the AA, said the proposals were addressing the problem of young drivers in the “wrong way”. He commented:

“You should prepare young drivers to be safe when they get their licence rather than give them their licence and then restrict them,”.

Mr King was of the view that there would be more value in mandatory lessons on motorways, in rural areas and in bad weather. Mr King also raised concerns in respect of effectively policing such in system in an already stretched police force and justice system.

There is no doubt that the need to overhaul the current drivers licensing system was well overdue. A new system will reduce casualties in the age groups of young victims who are most at risk.

The report raises some valid potential recommendations, some of which may need to be considered and further developed but are a positive step forward.

Although the proposals for this new scheme are welcomed and have had a positive impact in other Countries, it appears that the general lad culture in Britain is somewhat different to elsewhere. Therefore, it does not necessarily mean that the outcome of our results will mirror those of the other Countries. If this is the case, it may be that other forms of training for novice drivers should be considered and particularly for those under the age of 25 years as the human brain does not develop until this age.

The report will now be considered by Ministers to ascertain whether they are able to implement all or any of the recommendations made.

Please contact Malcolm Underhill, Brain Injury Solicitor on 01895 207972 or malcolm.underhill@ibblaw.co.uk