Edmund King AA President
WHEN I WAS 17, I not only managed to buy my own car, a Mini Traveller, for £45, but tax and insure it with money I’d saved from various Saturday jobs.
When my kids turn 17, if they can even afford to buy a car, they won’t be able to insure it. In fact there’s a real danger that high insurance costs alone will prevent most teenagers from driving. The average premium for a 17 to 21-year-old is now an eye-watering £1,741.
Does this matter? Of course it does. Owning a car not only helps young people achieve independence and maturity but can put them on the road to a career.
You might expect AA Members to recognise the benefits of being able to drive, but we were surprised by the results when we asked members of our AA/Populus panel what they considered to be the single most important life skill. Writing came out on top, nominated by 26%, but only slightly ahead of being able to drive, at 24%. Using a computer and first aid were each nominated by 18%. When asked to choose the three most important skills, more than two-thirds (69%) included driving.
Nevertheless, rising insurance premiums have contributed to a decline in the number of young people willing and able to obtain a licence, let alone put it to good use. Ironically, a recent directive from the European Court of Justice intended to stop sex discrimination has hit young drivers too. The UK Government fought it, the AA lobbied against it and no insurer wanted it, because it meant that one of the fairest ways of calculating premiums that properly reflected risk, ie gender, would be outlawed.
Although it’s still early days, the directive means that young women, who are half as likely as young men to be involved in a catastrophic crash, have seen sharp rises in premiums – in some cases up to 30% and typically about £300 more than they might have paid previously.
Young drivers, and novices in particular, already pay very high premiums. Not just because they have yet to build up a no-claims bonus, but because they clearly present a greater risk. A recent report noted that while only 8% of male drivers are under 22, they account for 26% of all those killed or seriously injured in crashes.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) used this as a basis for a report called
Improving the safety of young drivers, which proposed ways of reducing the toll.
- A minimum 12-month learning period before the test may be taken, allowing supervised practice with no incentive to rush. Intensive driving courses would be banned.
- Graduated licensing, with restrictions on night driving and the number of passengers that may be carried by a young driver.
- A lower alcohol limit for drivers aged 17-24.
The Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, also suggested in a press interview that young drivers could perhaps face a ban on carrying passengers other than family members. I have since discussed this with him; he says it was a matter for debate rather than government policy.
The problem with many such proposals is that they treat symptoms rather than causes; it’s also difficult to see how they could be enforced. What’s more they should be assessed for their impact on wider youth issues such as unemployment. Should a 21-year-old graduate be prevented from getting a job because he or she needs to drive to the workplace but can’t take the test for 12 months?
SUPERFICIALLY SIMPLE solutions might have disastrous consequences. So what can be done? Attitude is the key to safety, and our recent report, Young Drivers at Risk, published by the AA Charitable Trust as part of the ‘Make Roads Safe’ campaign for global road safety, calls for better education to tackle the death and injury rate among young drivers.
I believe it is through this type of action that we will start to see positive results.
However, such education must begin years before a child is old enough even to think about driving. Making road safety and driving science part of the national curriculum would be a good start, and something we have called on the Government to do.
CLICK THE PICTURES BELOW TO SEE JUST A COUPLE OF
PRACTICAL WAYS IN WHICH THE AA IS TRYING TO PROMOTE
YOUNG DRIVER SAFETY.
AA DRIVE SAFE
One way for young people to minimise insurance premiums is to have a ‘pay how you drive’ policy such as AA Drive Safe. This uses a small ‘black box’ in the car, wired into the electrical system. In real time, it measures speed, braking, cornering forces, time of day and road type. Points are scored according to how the car is driven and it’s possible to achieve a significant premium refund after only three months of use.
It works by measuring individual responsibility, providing an instant risk indication to the insurer. Users can track their own performance via an app, and the AA can provide a helping hand with AA Drive Smart tuition.
More info at theaa.com/insurance/telematic-insurance.html
AA DRIVE SMART
The AA Charitable Trust offers free Drive Smart courses to new drivers at risk. Two hours of tuition are tailored to individual needs and cover many aspects of safer and more economical driving, not least the most vital skill of reading the road ahead.
New drivers who have had a crash, near miss or penalty points within 12 months of passing their test can apply for a free course here: