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Why are newly qualified drivers at risk?

THINKThere are a number of reasons why young drivers are more likely to crash, including inexperience, over- confidence, poor hazard perception skills, drink and drugs, driving while distracted and fatigue.

Inexperience and over-confidence

Inexperience and over- confidence play a major part in explaining why one in five new drivers will be involved in a collision in their first six months of driving. Research suggests that lack of experience can be overcome by around 1,000 miles of solo driving. By the end of these 1,000 miles, the new driver should have experienced most of the situations they will face and will consequently be better able to recognise potential hazards early, giving them time to react accordingly.

Learner drivers tend to pick up the basic vehicle handling skills within just 15 hours, however other driving skills such as hazard perception do not develop as quickly, which can lead a young driver to believe that they are a ”better driver than they really are” and consequently place demands on their ability which are inappropriate for their level of driving experience and skill.

Driving hazard perception

Research has shown that young drivers have poorer visual awareness than a more experienced driver and display a smaller range of horizontal scanning of the road, look closer to the front of the vehicle, check their mirrors less and focus more on stationary objects than moving objects. This is not deliberate but a direct result of inexperience.

Drink and drug driving

Research has indicated that a young driver’s risk of crashing and receiving serious or fatal injury increases substantially faster than those who are older with each alcoholic drink consumed. Both alcohol and drugs affect a person’s mental capacity and ability to drive.

Drug kit
Drug driving roadside test kit.

The penalties for drug driving are the same as for drink driving. If convicted this could include:

  • A minimum 12-month driving ban
  • A criminal record
  • An unlimited fine
  • Up to six months in prison
  • An endorsement on your driving license for 11 years.


Driver distraction is when the driver pays attention to a second activity while driving. People cannot always safely multi-task in this way, especially if the second activity is time consuming or complex. Using a hand-held mobile phone is illegal and although using a hands-free phone is not, it can still be very distracting. Research shows that drivers who use a mobile phone whether hand-held or hands-free are:

Did you know?

In 2015 young drivers aged 17-24 made up only 7% of UK full driving licence holders, yet are involved in 22% of fatal or serious collisions in which they were the driver.

  • Much less aware of what’s happening on the road around them
  • Fail to see road signs
  • Fail to maintain proper lane position and steady speed
  • More likely to ”tailgate” the vehicle in front
  • React more slowly, take longer to brake and longer to stop
  • More likely to enter unsafe gaps in traffic
  • Feel more stressed and frustrated.

Using a hands-free phone while driving does not significantly reduce the risks. The problems are caused mainly by the mental distraction and divided attention of taking part in a phone conversation at the same time as driving.

Driver fatigue

Driving while tired can either directly contribute or indirectly contribute to many traffic collisions. Falling asleep while driving is not the only cause of fatigue related collisions; it can also include those who don’t pay attention because they are tired. This is particularly a risk for young drivers as they are more likely to drive late at night.

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