Would changing the driving test prevent more young people dying on Britain’s roads?

With 16 to 19 year olds more than twice as likely to die in car crashes as older drivers, is it time to change the way we teach the driving test? Sarah Freeman reports.

Bereaved father Tony Davison holding a photo of son Adrian Davison who was killed in a young driver crash

On two stretches of roadside, 170 miles apart, flowers and cards now mark the spot where this weekend six people - five of them aged under 18 - lost their lives.

On Saturday afternoon, a car driven by a 21 year old man hit a tree at speed in Morley killing two teenage boys. A few hours earlier three 17 year olds died, along with a 68 year old woman, following a crash in Powys in Wales.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Investigations are continuing, but the deaths add to the grim tally of statistics when it comes to young drivers. While 17 to 19 year olds only account for 1.5 per cent of UK licence holders, they are involved in 12 per cent of fatal and serious crashes.

Tony Davison, from Otley, knows exactly what it feels like to live through every parent’s worst nightmare. In November 2002 he spoke to his 18 year old son Adrian as he was about to make his way home from a night out with his best friend Nigel Rhodes. The pair never made it. Both were killed when Nigel’s car crashed on the A660 in Bramhope - a post mortem revealed that he was twice over the drink drive limit.

After losing his son, Tony began working with the road safety charity Brake. He regularly visits schools to raise awareness of the dangers, not just of drink driving, but also speeding, and is one of a growing number of voices calling for a change in the current driving test.

“We don’t teach young people how to drive, we teach them how to pass a test and that can’t be right,” says Tony. “At the moment you can be handed your driving licence at 1pm and 20 minutes later you can be on a motorway having never before gone more than 50mph.

“The introduction of a graduated driving test is long overdue. It works in somewhere like Germany, so there is no reason why it couldn’t work here and it would require everyone to drive in different conditions and to have a minimum learning period.”

It’s move which is supported by numerous motoring organisations and the Government had indicated that it would produce a green paper on the issue, but the document never materialised.

“That was about two or three years ago and still nothing,” says Neil Greig, director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists. “The driving test was first introduced in 1935 and while it has been tweaked a little over the years we really do need to a look at it again.

“The majority of people learn to drive in towns and cities, but they are simply not prepared for fast, rural roads where the vast majority of fatalities occur. They are often not used to driving in the dark on unlit roads and there is no mention at all about how to deal with peer pressure.

“While the UK does have a good road safety record compared to many other countries, there is more that we could do to reduce the numbers killed and injured on the country’s roads.”

According to research by Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, each year more than 400 people are killed in crashes involving young car drivers aged 17 to 24 and families like the Davisons know the devastation which each and every one of those deaths cause.

“After Adrian died there was a temptation to think of all the ifs and buts. ‘What if we’d talked to him more about not getting in a car with someone who’d had a drink’... ,” he says. “But there was no point. It wasn’t going to bring him back, but maybe speaking to other youngsters might just stop another family from having that knock on the door from the police.

“Yes, I was angry about what happened to Adrian, but I didn’t blame Nigel. He was a nice lad who made a stupid mistake. When he got into the car, he never intended to kill the pair of them, but that decision cost two young lives. They both had so much to live for, but all that hope was extinguished in a split second.”