There is strong logic behind the Scottish Government's support for restricting the driving licences issued to young drivers.
Young people who have just passed their test are more likely to take risks, they are more likely to show off to their friends in the back seat and, sadly, they are more likely to be killed in accidents. Drivers between the ages of 17 and 25 account for almost one-quarter of those killed or injured on the roads.
What the Scottish Government would like to see is a so-called graduated licensing scheme that would place temporary restrictions on new drivers including limits on passenger numbers and a possible ban on driving at night. Such schemes have already been shown to work in other countries, in particular New Zealand where restricted licences led to a reduction in car crash injuries among drivers under the age of 24.
Last year, it had looked as if the UK Government would support such a scheme in this country but the idea has been postponed indefinitely and, since vehicle licensing is a reserved matter, this has left the Scottish Government powerless to proceed on its own. Scotland's Transport Minister, Keith Brown, is frustrated by the decision and has written to his counterpart in Whitehall, Patrick McLoughlin, urging him to revive the plans and consider setting up a pilot in Scotland. In a recent letter to Mr McLoughlin, Mr Brown said the subject was too serious to be sidelined.
It is obviously in Mr Brown's interests to emphasise differences with Westminster, but he has a consistent track record in supporting this reform and has promoted it for at least two years. The evidence for a graduated licence is also strong, although care would have to be taken to ensure that any restrictions were appropriate for Scotland. For instance, what effect would a night-time ban have on young people in rural areas who rely on their cars? The Scottish Government has indicated it would not support a night-time ban initially and it might be that certain exceptions would have to be built in to ensure young people on nightshift could go to work.
A restriction on the number of passengers is more understandable. There is evidence that younger drivers are more likely to have an accident if they have other people in the car, although, again in rural areas, this could appear unfair on those who do not have access to good public transport.
There could also be an issue with enforcement. Would there really be enough police officers to ensure that young people were not driving around at night? A pilot scheme could examine these issues and others before proceeding to a change in the law.
Sadly, the UK Government appears to have rejected the idea but it must explain why. The accident rate for drivers between the ages of 17 and 25 is almost double that for older drivers and, yet, young drivers can still go from never having driven to being fully licensed in a matter of months.
There is an opportunity to change matters for the better for the sake of young drivers and their families. The UK Government should reconsider its decision.
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