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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 20, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    The driver’s education debate

    Michael McAleer

    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?

    • patrick says:

      Ireland needs to up date its driving laws as well as courts so that all drivers will think twice before a violation of the law.

    • kynos says:

      I certainly think any young driver who is caught speeding or driving otherwise recklessly should be made to spend a day or a week ‘volunteering’ at a rehab centre. Or visiting a donor wa an orthapaedic war. Or watching an autopsy being carried out on an RTA victim. Or all three. As well as being forced to fit a governor to the engine of their vehicle and restricted in terms of the hours they may drive between. You have to increase the punishment so it basically cancels out the reward of the thrill, the buzz, the feeling of god-like invulnerability, the feeling of being way out there on the edge where all the interesting stuff happens in your head. I don’t know. Very good article Mr Comyn. I can tell you though that getting creamed in an RTA is definitely not likely to make one take less risky behaviours afterwards. Anecdotal I know but I reckon that’s so.

    • Gareth O'Neill says:

      How do you legislate for 8 guys in a VW Passat on Donegal country roads in the wee hours of the morning? Surely it comes down to personal responsibility. Restricting a car’s top speed is easily overridden and very hard to police but can also make legitimate overtaking manouvers extremely dangerous. Perhaps a cap on the BHP of a newly qualified driver’s car for the first 3 years but that could still allow a 21 year old to drive a 400BHP M3 perfectly legally if money were no object. Restricting the hours of use, increased Garda presence and increased education seems to be the only realistic way to deal with this. If necessary, scare tactics such as testimonies from emergency service workers who deal with the aftermath of the lads “having a laugh in the mates Skyline”. Being honest the only thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow is the thought of losing my license followed by my job followed by my ability to feed my family. 10 years ago i had no such fears and with such a lack of Garda presence on the roads i felt untouchable. Having said that i see more stupid, dangerous manouvres by 40 year olds in a Repmobile on a daily basis than any kid in a Souped-up Micra

    • irishdriver says:

      This is such a complex topic that it requires a level headed and logical examination. We have to be honest and say that these 2 traits are not commonplace in our politicians or media reporting for that matter. I’m glad that physiology has been mentioned as males in the age brackets mentioned have a lot going on in terms of their mind and body that is ingrained in them as males, and cannot be legislated for. Drink driving laws, speed laws all make the assumption that drivers respect the law and fear its consequences and in the end negatively affects the general Joe driver who does everything right and does little to solve problem. For me graduated driver training is the most logical way. Teaching road awareness while driving is fundamental to safety. Our Gardai get it like other law enforcement agencies the world over in order to drive in persuit in the safest possible way. How many people you know could tell how far the next junction is ahead or what is the car 3 up in front of them at the drop of a hat. Very few I’m guessing. So, awareness and personal responsibility are top priority, not scaremongering and new laws to further erode civil liberties of innocent drivers.

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