The driver’s education debate
The awful two weeks that we have had on Irish roads, between the horrific Donegal accident and the motorsport deaths both in rallying and road racing have once again brought road safety into the headlines.
We can once again start talking about methods of preventing accidents and although what happened in Donegal with the tragic death of eight people is not directly linked to motorsport, they are all linked to risk.
As we all know by now, the most vulnerable group is young male drivers and this doesn’t matter what country you examine, the statistics will show you that they are most at risk. We can debate for days about the reasons why, but the clear facts are this group are often less experienced, often way too confident and they are also more likely to take risks by nature of their gender, their hormones and their relationship with their peer groups.
We don’t know yet, for sure, what happened in Donegal that night, but we know that the majority of those people who lost their lives belong to a group that need the most care and attention if we are to reduce our road deaths further than we already have.
So how do we do that? Do we need to introduce driver’s education into the school system? Unfortunately there is a problem with that, in that in the US, where it has been in existance for decades the statisticians struggle to find any direct benefit to a class-based system and the saving of lives. The difficulty being, that in a country where you can start driving at 15 or 16 in many states, the risk of these often semi-mature drivers having an accident is dramatically increased. And perversely it has been found that training younger drivers without giving them proper road experience can make them more likely to have an accident.
Traditional driver-training programs that aim to increase vehicle-handling and manoeuvring skills have previously been related, somewhat counter-intuitively, to an actual increase in the crash rate of young drivers. This is believed primarily to be due to associated increases in confidence that result in greater risk taking while driving.
A new form of teaching, used quite often in Scandanavian countries, known as Insight Driver Training uses a different approach, working on attitudinal-motivational skills. The aim is to raise drivers’ awareness of factors that contribute to crashes and potential risks when driving.
Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) is Australia’s largest injury prevention specialist. They were commissioned to evaluate a driver-training program that alternatively aimed to provide greater insight and awareness of potential risks when driving, thereby targeting issues of over-confidence rather than traditional advanced driving skills.
An example of an insight-training program was provided by AAMI Insurance in their Skilled Drivers of Australia program for recently licensed drivers. The one-day program was developed for 18-25 year olds and is comprised of both theoretical and practical components. MUARC was commissioned to evaluate the program in relation to changes in road safety attitudes and behaviours, and perceptions of enforcement and crash risk factors.
The results were good, showing that
- overall confidence in personal driving ability did not increase, with male drivers reporting reduced confidence in their driving ability;
- participants reported greater discomfort driving close behind another vehicle;
- they were less likely to agree that driver-training was a waste of time;
- participants’ belief that they were a better driver than others became stronger;
- they tended to report increased confidence in their ability to manage possible hazards when driving, mostly true for females;
- they reported low levels of dangerous driving behaviours, as measured by the Driving Behaviour Questionnaire, that did not increase over the survey period;
- the sensitivity of participants to the possibility of having a crash increased; and
- the tendency of the young males to drive over the speed limit was reduced, at least to the lower level reported by females.
Positive effects of being enrolled in the driver-training program and waiting to take part were also evident. Those waiting to take part in the course:
- tended to less strongly perceive themselves as better than other drivers;
- more strongly agreed they could use more training;
- reported reduced confidence in their driving ability; and
- tended to report greater awareness of the risk of having a crash or near miss, and of failing to see a hazard. (Source: MUARC)
Perhaps we need to look at this and a graduated driving licence system to encourage younger drivers to adopt different behaviours.
But what do you think? Given that we know the nature of the problem and we know who is most at risk, how to we instill into the most vulnerable groups a greater sense of awareness of the dangers?