As American presidential candidate Donald Trump found out recently, we live in the age of the petition. The one requesting Mr Trump be barred from entering the UK after his comments about Muslims was debated in the House of Commons, but a lesser-known petition may not get the same high-profile media attention.
It states simply: ‘Should we train young people to understand road safety and hazard perception at a younger age? Should schoolchildren be made to learn about the rules of the road, and is a change to the national curriculum feasible?’
The petition, started last year, asserted that an earlier education in the field of road safety, speed awareness and actual hands-on driving experience in a controlled environment would save lives. It says that driving and road safety should, in fact, be on the school curriculum so that all young people can gain a basic grasp of the rules of the road.
The petition expired at the end of January, and sadly did not reach the 10,000 signature threshold that requires the government to respond to it directly. It stalled at 5,360. Should 100,000 people have signed the petition, the Government would be forced to consider the prospect of adding road safety to the national curriculum as a topic for debate in the House of Commons.
The way young people are taught about the rules of the road is of huge importance, and is a point of interest for a large swathe of the population. Most young people are taught about road safety in one way or another, but as not everyone has a need, interest or indeed the funds required to go through the process of learning to drive and passing both the theory and practical driving test, is there an argument to be had about a compulsory level of road safety knowledge being required to ensure our roads are as safe as can be?
Young Driver, an organisation that offers driving lessons to people between the ages of eleven and seventeen in a controlled environment, was the author of this petition. Kim Stanton of Young Driver explained why this was. “Driving a vehicle is potentially one of the most dangerous and responsible things a person can do,” she said. “Learning to drive should be done over a long period of time, and from a young age, when pupils are more receptive to safety messages.”
How does that strategy compare with the experience of drivers who learn through intensive driving courses? It is true that such courses do not have everyone on board. Learning to drive in a matter of a few months or even weeks is not likely to be the right education for most young drivers, as there are simply just so many things that only experience can teach.
But how long a person needs to experience driving before they are able to drive well consistently is open to debate. An investigation into ‘crash’ courses was conducted by MoneySuperMarket, and it was found that confidence was just one of many issues when it came to the driving test after a short amount of time learning. This, of course, translates to post-test driving as well, where a young driver is left to drive on their own.
The statistics surrounding young drivers are damning: 40 per cent of 17-year-old male drivers have an road traffic collision in their first six months of driving is a stat that hits you right between the eyes. Overall, one in five new drivers are involved in a crash within just six months of passing their test.
Mark Lewis, director of standards for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, commented on these figures for Admiral. He said: “The high number of accidents and the sad loss of life as a result of unprepared young drivers urgently needs to be tackled. Quite obviously the driving education that youngsters are currently receiving is inadequate.”
Relating to the issue of the amount of time it should take a person to become comfortable behind the wheel, he stated: “Learning such an important skill shouldn’t potentially be done and dusted in a few short months.”
The issue that pervades all arguments is of experience. There is nothing stopping a particularly perceptive young driver passing their test just a few weeks after the first time they turned on the ignition. In fact, some fast-track courses offer this as a feasible goal. Should some degree of road safety be taught in schools, this would, at least, address this possibility.
Young Driver’s Kim Stanton also spoke of the specific benefits of teaching road safety in a school environment in her interview with the Mirror. “Evidence-based research shows that road safety messages are better absorbed by children in their early teens rather than at driving age. By having [road safety education] take place at school it can be made inclusive for all.”
This petition is not the first time there have been calls for compulsory road safety education in schools, and the emotive language used in it serve as a reminder that measures have been asked for in the past to no avail. The petition affirms that such a change in the curriculum would ‘save lives’, and perhaps the most chilling statistic of all is contained in the petition itself: “A quarter of all 15-19-yearolds who die are killed in cars.”
With the availability of digital tools to teach certain practical skills on the roads, this petition should have been seriously considered. Such measures would go beyond a reminder of the Green Cross Code, but instead tools similar to the Hazard Perception test could be used in classrooms, alongside traditional learning methods.
It would be difficult to make some form of actual practical experience of driving compulsory and a part of the curriculum, given the fact that such skills could only be learned on suitable, private land, but, in theory, there is nothing to stop the Government adding some form of road safety education to the curriculum for teenagers.
Eric Rogers writes on car technology and road legislation.
He runs Dash Witness, a dashboard camera company