Research shows nearly two-thirds support a safer licensing system for new drivers

14 July 2023

Posted in Surveys and reports

  • New research shows 63% of people would support a phased licensing system for young and newly qualified drivers – with only 16% saying they wouldn’t 
  • 17–24-year-olds account for only 6% of all licence holders in Britain, yet they represent 18% of all car drivers killed or seriously injured
  • One in five drivers crash within their first year on the road
  • 81% of respondents think learner drivers should be required to have motorway driving practice before they pass their test

Nearly two-thirds of people surveyed would support a new phased driving licensing system to safeguard young drivers on our roads, new research from Brake, the road safety charity, and AXA UK has discovered.

More than 1,500 young people are killed or seriously injured on our roads each year. 17–24-year-olds account for only 6% of all licence holders in Britain, yet they represent 18% of all car drivers killed or seriously injured.1,2

Young drivers aged 17–24 years are also at greater risk than other drivers because of age and inexperience. Normal brain development means young drivers are often more likely to take risks and are less able to regulate their impulses or understand the consequences of their decisions.

Knowing these risks exist for young people, and knowing that there are ways to support and safeguard them, means the government has to act now.

The report – Driver testing and education – released today (14 July 2023) by Brake and AXA UK, challenges the government to conduct a high-level strategic review of road safety, because safer drivers mean safer roads for all.

The top recommendation from the report is to implement a progressive licensing system that provides safeguards for learner and newly qualified drivers.

A progressive licensing system – which introduces elements such as a minimum learning period and a lower blood alcohol limit, while also reducing the number of similar-aged passengers a newly licensed driver can carry – has proved successful in reducing road deaths and injuries of young drivers in other countries. For example, a similar system in New Zealand led to a 23% reduction in car crash injuries for 15–19-year-olds, and a 12% reduction for 20–24-year-olds.3 There is good evidence that additional hazard perception training is another effective way to improve driver safety.4,5

Our 18-year-old daughter Caitlin was tragically killed as a passenger in her friend’s car. Her friend had passed her test just four months previously and she was also tragically killed, aged 18. The girls weren't doing anything wrong at the time of the crash. The young, novice driver wasn't speeding but the road was wet and she lost control on entering a bend on a rural road. The car spun and collided into a van travelling in the opposite direction. At the Inquest in 2018, the Coroner put the crash down to the inexperience of the newly qualified driver.

I support this campaign for a safer driving licensing system which will help young, inexperienced drivers to build up their skills and experience gradually without being exposed to danger in those first few months, up to a year of driving. In particular, I am calling for a limited time for young newly qualified drivers to not carry their young friends as passengers, not until they have gained more experience in driving first.

I know through evidence-based research that a phased licensing law could have saved Caitlin and her friend’s lives, and the many other young lives that have been tragically lost on our roads too.

Sharron Huddleston, bereaved mother and road safety campaigner

Today (14 July) is the six year anniversary of Caitlin and her friend dying in this crash. Brake has long been calling for this type of licensing to be introduced. We need a system in place that is designed to help and support people as they learn to drive.

This report shows that nearly two-thirds (63%) of drivers surveyed said they would support a phased or progressive licensing system, and only one-sixth (16%) would be against it. This overwhelming majority demonstrates that there is clear public support and appetite for a system like this, and for ensuring we prioritise the safety of young drivers on our roads.

We ask the government to ensure that in another six years we aren’t still asking for a system that we know could help safeguard young and new drivers on our roads.

Ross Moorlock, interim CEO at Brake
headshot of Ross Moorlock, interim CEO at Brake

Road safety is a key priority for AXA and it’s important that we understand public attitudes, knowledge and perception of issues such as driver training and education, which are the focus of this survey. It’s encouraging that 63% of respondents support the idea of graduated driver licensing, which has proved successful in reducing road deaths in other countries.

This study raises a number of issues around driver education, testing and licensing that warrant further consideration. It’s concerning to see that 71% of respondents were unable to identify the correct distance they should keep from the car in front and 59% chose the incorrect national speed limit on dual carriageways. We therefore urge the Government to undertake a high-level strategic review to explore the issues raised in more detail, including the introduction of a graduated driver licensing scheme.

Jon Walker, CEO at AXA Commercial
Headshot of Jon Walker, Chief Executive Officer, AXA Commercial

The report also focused on other aspects of system change, lifelong learning and further testing such as clearer speed limit signs on single and dual carriageways, more driver education and awareness around stopping distances, and a further call for a reinvestment in active travel schemes.

  • 1 DVLA (2023) GB Driving licence data. Table DRL0101. Provisional and Full driving licences held, by age and by gender, Great Britain
  • 2 DfT (2022) Reported road casualties Great Britain. Annual report 2021 and associated data sets
  • 3House of Commons Transport Select Committee (2021), Road safety: young and novice drivers.
  • 4McKenna and Crick (1997), TRL Report 297 – Developments in hazard perception.
  • 5Roberts et al. (2021) The effect of hazard awareness training on teen drivers of varying socioeconomic status. Traffic Injury Prevention.