Helping P plate drivers

A Learner Driver is the least likely driver to be in a fatal crash, that all changes once they gain their P1 licence. 18 to 25 year olds are only 10% of Victorian licence holders, yet they make up 18% of those killed (2019). The reasons why young and novice drivers are more likely to be in a crash are complex. As a parent or guardian, you have an important part to play in helping prepare your child for solo driving. The best time to do this is while they are learning to drive.

Once your child has their licence the learning doesn’t stop. You still have an important part to play. By continuing to provide guidance and supervision you can help to make them safer on the road.

Night time driving

The most dangerous time to drive after a person has received their licence is during their first 3-6 months. The risks are even higher when driving at night. When driving from 10pm to 6am, a young first year driver is seven times more likely than a fully licensed driver to be in a fatal or serious injury crash.

Getting their licence provides a young driver with a new sense of independence. It’s normal for a P Plater to think they don’t need any more help once they have their P’s. You can still help them be safe on the roads by talking about the risks and working out ways to help them stay safe. Why is driving at night more of a risk?

  • Visibility is reduced at night and so is the time we have to recognise and respond to potential hazards.
  • Most social functions happen at night, so there is a greater chance of fatigue. Driving tired can be as dangerous as driving drunk.
  • Young drivers tend to do more recreational driving without a destination in mind. Most of this driving happens at night, and with other passengers, which also increases the chances of being distracted.
  • It is important to remember that they are on the road with others who are tired or have been drinking.

How can you help?

  • Where possible, during their first 3-6 months of probationary driving try to drive with them at night (between 10pm and 6am). Even though this may be challenging it will mean they’ll be safer now and into the future.
  • Encourage them to leave the car at home and catch public transport to social functions. It’s easier to make good decisions early rather than late at night when all they want to do is get home.
  • If they do drive - it never hurts to give them another option in case they feel it’s unsafe to drive home. Let them know that the taxi of Mum and Dad is still available or make sure they have extra money for a cab or rideshare.

Find out more info on the VicRoads website

Tips for parents

Learning to a drive a car is a continuous journey. Even though a newly licensed driver has the skills to drive a car, they will be driving on their own for the first time. It will be their first experience of driving without someone to guide them in their decision making.

Their decision making will develop over their four years as a P plate driver. They will still be learning to make decisions about what speed to drive in certain conditions or how to deal with distracting passengers. Making correct and safe judgments takes time, maturity and experience.

What are the risks?

No one wants to think about being in a crash. Young drivers are more likely to overestimate their level of ability and are less likely to believe they might be in a crash. The highest risk zone for a P Plater is during the first 6-12 months that they have their licence.

There are many reasons why P Platers are more likely to crash then Learners. One reason is that as a P Plater they are driving more kilometres than when they were as a Learner and they are doing this driving unsupervised.

What can you do?

Even though your child is over 18 years old, you’re still an important influence on them.

There are ways that parents can help to reduce the risk of crashes:

  • Be aware of the restrictions probationary drivers need to follow and encourage your new driver to follow them.
  • Help your child to choose and buy a safe car. P Plate drivers often have older vehicles that aren’t fitted with important safety features. A safer car can stop a crash from happening or reduce injury in the case of a crash. Find safe cars on the How Safe is Your Car website.
  • Negotiate some ground rules before they get their probationary licence. For instance, your new driver can drive the family car, but only if they turn their mobile phone off or use their phone’s Do Not Disturb function.
  • Discuss your expectations, such as not speeding, driving with passengers or driving late at night, especially if they are driving the family car or you have paid for or helped to pay for their car.
  • Continue to be available to provide supervision, particularly for night time driving and driving with passengers.
  • Help your child develop some strategies in case they ever feel pressured by friends to do the wrong thing. The fines and penalties are a good motivator for doing the right thing. If a P1 probationary driver is caught with more than one peer passenger they will receive 3 demerit points and a $496 fine.

We all make mistakes

No matter what your age is, we all make mistakes. It’s important to discuss the risks when driving, and if your child is receiving traffic fines or demerit points it can be a red flag. Illegal behaviour while driving puts their life and others at risk.

Fines and infringements are costly and work to deter people from breaking the rules. If your young driver does commit an offence make sure they pay for the fine – not you. It is important your young driver experiences the consequences for their risky behaviour to deter them from engaging in it and other behaviours in the future.

Probationary drivers also only have 5 demerit points per year, this means even offences they might consider minor will get them close to losing their licence. If a P1 driver uses their mobile phone will driving they will receive a $496 fine and 4 demerit points.

If they lose their licence it might be inconvenient for them and for you, but serving out the suspension will mean they feel the consequences of their actions. In most cases receiving a penalty will mean they will be less likely to offend again in the future and will be safer as a result.

Are defensive driving courses a good idea?

We often get questions about the benefits of extra driver training and defensive driving courses. When we look into crashes, we find that fatigue, drink and drug driving and speed are the leading contributing factors. Providing too much emphasis on advanced car control driving skills does not create better safety outcomes for drivers. Drivers can be more likely to take risks due to the perception among these people that they are more skilled. Developing basic car control skills can be achieved in real traffic environments under the supervision of an experienced driver or instructor while on a Learner’s licence.

Be a good role model

Being a good role model is very important. What parents do shows their child how they want him or her to behave. How you drive will influence your child in the same way as what you eat or how much exercise you do. So, try to practice what you preach – obey the road laws and drive safely. Take responsibility if you have committed traffic offences in the past. Admit your own mistakes and talk to your young driver about the negative consequences and how you can avoid future offences.

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