Will graduated licences make roads safer?

3 minute read

A Graduate Driving Licence scheme may soon place restrictions on new drivers to reduce road accidents.

  • A new Graduate Driving Licence is to be trialled in Northern Ireland as part of a government-backed scheme to reduce the number of young driver accidents
  • Other nations have deployed similar driving restrictions to great success
  • Plans are in the initial trial and consultation phase, with no decision yet on whether the scheme will pass into law
The battle to make Britain’s roads safer is ongoing. From national awareness campaigns to innovative initiatives, much time and effort is being dedicated to reducing the number of road accidents. But could limiting when new drivers are allowed behind the wheel help or is it unfairly discriminating? 

Initial trials of graduated licences are to take place in Northern Ireland. If successful, similar schemes could be rolled out across the UK. 


What is a graduated licence?

A graduated driving licence (GDL) scheme places restrictions on new and inexperienced drivers to try and improve safety. Limits are in place for the six months after a driver has first passed their test.

Similar schemes already exist in several countries across the world, as well as several US states.  In the UK, a quarter of new drivers are involved in a serious accident during their first year on the road, with nearly 400 accidents leading to severe injury or death.

What restrictions would a Graduate Licence include ?

  • A ban on night-time driving during the hours of 11PM and 6AM
  • No passengers under the age of 18 to be allowed in the vehicle other than immediate family members and dependents
  • A learner driver is required to take six months of lessons before taking a driving test
  • A maximum speed of 45mph on roads other than motorways
  • Drivers will have to display R or P plates for two years
  • A zero-tolerance on alcohol blood readings

Graduated licences and road safety: The Facts

It’s estimated that 400 new drivers die or seriously injure themselves in road accidents every year.

Graduate driving licence (GDL) laws are in place in several countries, including Australia and New Zealand, as well as a number of US states. New Zealand’s GDL scheme has led to a 23% reduction in crash injuries for 15-19-year olds and a 12% reduction for 20-24-year olds. In the US, 16-year-old drivers have 37% fewer crashes when under GDL restrictions.

There are several ways a GDL scheme may improve safety:

  • 89% of young drivers in the UK complete less than 40 hours of driving practice before taking their tests. New restrictions would mean would-be drivers have six months of lessons before any test application is allowed
  • Night-time driving can be riskier – especially for inexperienced drivers – because of reduced visibility. Driving curfews mean there will be less young and inexperienced drivers on the road at night
  • Restrictions on passengers mean a driver is less likely to kill or injure others should they be involved in a road traffic accident
  • Speed and modifications limitations could mean young drivers are less likely to ‘show off’ to their friends or seek to upgrade their vehicles with power enhancements

Is there any opposition to Graduate Driving Licence schemes?

There are concerns around how a GDL would affect young drivers. Some feel that the curfews place unnecessary restrictions on young people who may need to travel for work or education. Passenger restrictions may encourage young drivers to run their own cars rather than ride-sharing, potentially contributing to emissions levels and congestion. 

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