The government has recently announced they are considering imposing further restrictions on learner drivers. The proposed changes include a mandatory 1 year learner stage, in which anyone under 18 would not be able to take their driving test, and then a further year on a probationary licence until they turn 19. Learner drivers would also have to have completed a minimum of 100 hours daytime driving and 20 hours driving at night. Those drivers on the 1 year probationary licence after passing their test would also be subject to a curfew between 10 pm and 5 pm where they would have to have a driver over the age of 30 in the car with them.
These proposed changes have hardly been met with universal approval from motorists, especially by those who will be affected by it. A common argument that has been made in relation to the proposed curfew, is the impact that it would have on people who work nights. In the current economic climate, when we are constantly being told that there is a high youth unemployment rate, it seems a very strange idea to make it more difficult for young people to travel to and from work. It is also a matter for concern that many young people may well be prejudiced against finding work as they will not have the same mobility as their older competitors.
A point that has yet to be clarified is whether these proposed changes will affect all learner drivers, i.e. those older than 18. For example if a 30 year old were to begin learning to drive, would they still be subject to the same 1 year learning period and 1 year probationary licence?
Next to be considered by the government is the practicalities of imposing these changes. Learner drivers would be required to have 100 hours daytime driving, does all of this time have to be gained with a qualified driving instructor? If so, the average cost of a 1 hour lesson is £20, this means that the government would now be demanding that any learner driver has a disposable income of nearly £2500 to complete the require day and night driving experience. With the cost of motoring continuing to rise in the form of higher insurance premiums and fuel prices this will price many young people out of being able to drive.
Even if the government accepts that these hours can be completed with a driver who has held a licence for over 2 years and is older than 21, as is currently the case, how do they intend to regulate this? The obvious point is that people will claim that they have carried out the required driving time, regardless of whether they have and it seems that it would be almost impossible to verify whether they had done or not.
Many groups are calling for learner drivers to be closely supervised, I agree, but the question is whether the current systems in place are sufficient to ensure this? Learner drivers already have to pass both a theory and practical test, demonstrating that they know the potential dangers of the road and demonstrating that they can drive safely before being granted a licence. If people wish to ensure that only safe drivers are allowed to gain a full licence, then isn’t the obvious solution to have a more stringent theory and practical test? New drivers are also restricted at present, if they receive 6 penalty points within the first 2 years of driving, their licence is revoked and they must pass both the theory and practical tests again.
Most people agree that learner drivers should be closely supervised, however any changes should be carefully considered before being implement and on the face of it, these current proposals have not been.
By Alex Garner, motoring offences team