Driving age set to rise


Driving age set to rise to cut youth death toll

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The minimum legal driving age is expected to rise to 18 as part of reforms to cut the number of deaths caused on Britain’s roads by novice drivers.

Ministers are to propose a 12-month training period for new drivers, in effect preventing 17-year-olds from holding a full licence, The Times has learnt.

A consultation paper, to be published this autumn, will also suggest a zero alcohol limit for newly-qualified drivers of all ages for a year after they pass the test. Novice drivers found behind the wheel with alcohol in their blood would be forced to retake their test. Motorway driving may also be restricted to more experienced drivers.

The Government is, however, to reject proposals to ban young drivers from ferrying their friends as unworkable. Nor are there plans to introduce an upper age limit.

Research by the Department for Transport (DfT) suggests that a 12-month learning period would save up to 1,000 deaths and serious injuries and up to 7,000 casualties a year.

Young male drivers are the biggest cause of death of young women in Britain. Almost one in two drivers killed at night is under 25. MPs on the Transport Select Committee last month urged the Government to consider raising the minimum legal driving age. The proposal has the backing of campaigners and insurers.

The Association of British Insurers told MPs that 50,000 17-year-olds pass the driving test with less than six months’ driving experience every year. “If the learning period takes place in the spring and summer months, many of these drivers may obtain a full licence having never driven in ice or snow, or even in the dark,” a spokesman said.

Britain is one of very few EU countries to allow 17-year-olds to hold a full driving licence. Ministers considered raising the minimum age five years ago but backed down because of concerns that it would hit the rural economy. Around 70 per cent of 17-year-old motorists drive themselves to work.

The increase in the school leaving age to 18 will undermine the economic objection, however. The case for change has also been underlined by evidence showing that, while general accident rates are falling, those among novice drivers are increasing. Crashes involving drivers under 25 killed more than 1,000 people last year. No fewer than 27 per cent of teenage male drivers are involved in a collision in their first year.

Jim Fitzpatrick, the roads minister, said: “We want to send a message to our young people that passing your test and driving is not just a bit of fun. It carries responsibilities.”

A senior figure at the DfT told The Times that ministers believed the case for a 12-month learning period and restrictions on alcohol limits and motorway driving for new drivers had been made. The changes would have to apply to motorcycles to prevent teens switching from four wheels to two.

The Driving Standards Agency is finalising the details of a consultation document containing the proposals to be launched this October.

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