Learner drivers are very safe – they have an experienced supervising driver with them who can help detect potential hazards and help with decision making. However, once they get a licence and can drive solo, new drivers have a much higher accident risk than other groups of drivers. There are many reasons for this and new drivers are an important target group for road safety programs.
New (or novice) drivers are especially over-represented in accidents involving:
- running into the back of another vehicle
- turning right at intersections
- being hit by a right-turning vehicle
- running off the road or losing control.
Research suggests that about half of new-driver accidents result from risky driving behaviour. This means new drivers might avoid many accidents if they developed safer driving habits.
Victoria recently introduced some important licensing system changes to help improve the safety of new drivers. The most important change in the new graduated licensing system is that young learner drivers have to accrue at least 120 hours of driving experience before they can attempt the licence test. This change recognises the importance of on-road driving experience for learner drivers developing safer driving habits.
For more information about young driver safety and the new graduated licensing system see the Victorian Road Safety Strategy.
Community programs and novice drivers
Local communities recognise the importance of novice driver safety – many Victorian communities have experienced the loss of young drivers or passengers. This leads many community groups to focus on young driver safety as an issue of local importance. The TAC is keen to encourage this, but wants to ensure that community based programs for young and new drivers are as effective as possible.
The key challenge for community groups is the complexity of the novice driver issue. New drivers have a relatively high crash risk for many reasons, including:
- their lack of on-road experience, resulting in poorer decision making and hazard detection skills
- over-confidence about their own safe driving skills
- social and lifestyle factors that lead them to drive at times and in situations where their accident risk is high.
These factors are not easily influenced. They don't reflect a lack of knowledge amongst novice drivers, so classroom-based education programs are not effective. They are not the result of poor car-handling skills, so driver training programs focusing on better vehicle control are not effective. Some factors (such as the social and lifestyle factors) are difficult to address directly because young people are strongly motivated to have busy social lives.
The most promising approach to help reduce novice drivers' accident risk is to help them, when they are learner drivers, to gain as much supervised on-road driving experience as possible. Another important approach is to help them limit their exposure to high-risk driving situations once they are licensed. Community groups interested in novice driver problems should consider programs such as:
- Helping disadvantaged learner drivers get on-road experience. VicRoads is currently trialling these programs with the support of local government groups and some community groups have already been involved in similar programs
- Encouraging parents and other supervising drivers to make more opportunities for their learners to get experience
- Encouraging learner drivers to stay motivated about getting experience throughout their learner period
- Providing alternatives to driving for young people attending community events
- Encouraging licensed young people to use alternatives to driving when going out socially and encouraging parents to help provide alternatives.
Novice drivers are not just young drivers. Some community groups have already recognised the importance of programs that target safety amongst older people who are new to driving in Victoria. Programs, such as Community Car Connections, are available through VicRoads, to help new arrivals gain on-road, supervised experience before they take on solo driving. There is also support available through the Victorian Community Road Safety Partnership Program which can be found on the VicRoads website, www.vicroads.vic.gov.au.
The Community Road Safety Grants Program will not fund some novice driver programs
Until there is sound scientific evidence to support these programs, the Community Road Safety Grants Program will not fund:
- Driver training projects where off-road driving activity takes place on a driver training range or similar location.
- Driver training programs that focus on professional driving lessons or classroom activity. These may form a minor part of the project only.
- Programs that aim to improve young drivers' vehicle handling skills or confidence.
- Programs based on educational theories or theories of crash involvement that are untested by sound research.
- Programs that focus on helping disadvantaged learner drivers get on-road experience. The TAC funds the L2P Program, which is delivered by VicRoads in partnership with local Councils.
- The development of driver training programs that focus on professional driving lessons for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The TAC provides funding through the Victorian Community Road Safety Partnership Program to support registered groups with this type of activity.