Graduated licence plan scrapped in favour of new 'learners' curriculum'

Plans to limit what new drivers can do, including restrictions on nighttime driving and a limit on passengers, have been dropped by the Government.

Roads minister Baroness Vere told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee that the Department for Transport was abandoning work on graduated driving licences (GDL), partly due to concerns about the potential impact of restrictions on employment opportunities.

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The DfT recently held a consultation into GDLs, which had sought the input of young drivers on a number of proposals aimed at reducing the disproportionate number of young motorists killed and injured on the UK’s roads.

Among the suggestions had been a zero-tolerance drink-drive limit for new drivers, a minimum number of lessons, a limit on the number of passengers new drivers can carry, a curfew banning new drivers from the road between midnight and 5am.

Plans for a graduated licence included setting a minimum number of lessons (Photo: Shutterstock)

GDLs are used in several other countries, including Australia, Sweden, the US and Canada.

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Baroness Vere said that countries which use GDLs have "massively higher mortality rates than we do” and said the Government would instead look to trial a driving lesson format that covered a broader spread of conditions, including driving in the dark and in bad weather.

She said that the DfT had asked the Driving Instructors Association to develop a new modular curriculum for learners to cover issues such as driving in adverse weather, at high speed, on rural roads, and how to handle distractions while driving. She also said the department was considering a logbook system to prove learners had undertaken all the necessary modules.

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Committee member Lilian Greenwood said the decision was "incredibly disappointing" and cited research by TRL which estimated that GDLs could save 41 lives and £191 million each year.

Asked if this wasn't a strong case for actions, Baroness Vere replied: "There are many different things you can do in order to reduce road traffic deaths."

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The RAC Foundation’s head of research, Elizabeth Box, head of research at the RAC Foundation, accused the Government of trying to conflate the imposition of GDLs with a loss of freedom.

She said: "Graduated licensing in various forms has been tried and tested in many countries across the world. Its effectiveness in cutting death and injury associated with young drivers is not in dispute. So, it is hard to understand why ministers would turn their back on its use here.

"Young people who pass their test still immediately get almost all the benefits driving brings, but with additional protection to gain experience in those critical first months after going solo when the risk is at its greatest."

However, Ian McIntosh, CEO of RED Driving School, said the decision was good news for learners.

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He commented: "The Department for Transport’s latest decision is unexpected, but a real coup for young people all over the country.

“Restricting young drivers will never be the answer to improving road safety, especially in the midst of a pandemic. The younger generations have been impacted most by the economic fallout of Covid-19 and have already suffered the most from a constricted job market. The original proposal threatened to affect job opportunities as well as support networks built around friends and families – particularly in rural areas where public transport options are limited.

“The new proposed driving lesson format supports RED’s view of helping drivers of all ages to develop their skills behind the wheel. Young people are often blamed for causing road traffic accidents, but in reality these are driven by a lack of experience rather than age. Ensuring all new drivers are comfortable driving in adverse conditions, such as wet weather, late at night or on rural roads can only help to build confidence and provide a realistic picture of what driving year-round entails.”