Is Young Driver Safety Back on the Political Agenda?
The Transport Select Committee has continued the young and novice drivers inquiry it began earlier this year. What did the appearance of the Roads Minister in front of the committee tell us about the Government’s attitude towards this issue?
On 16 March 2020, the Transport Select Committee opened an inquiry into young and novice drivers, which sought to answer why young drivers rank disproportionately high in fatal and serious collisions, and to “scrutinise the Government’s actions to reduce the risks of young and novice drivers.” Oral evidence for this inquiry was opened recently after a long hiatus.
Keoghs has been campaigning on this issue since 2013. In addition to meeting with a variety of MPs (including the Roads Minister) and hosting an event in the House of Commons in 2019, the market affairs team contributed written evidence to the committee’s inquiry earlier this year. More recently, Keoghs has been an active member of a young driver safety working group. Stakeholders include RoadPeace, Brake, RAC Foundation, Transport Research Laboratory, insurance stakeholders and a number of victim families.
We were pleased to see the inquiry picked up again following a long COVID-enforced recess, and to hear from the Roads Minister, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, as she outlined the Government’s position on the issue in response to questioning from a variety of committee members.
In an hour long interrogation, Baroness Vere noted that the Department for Transport had asked the Driving Instructors Association to develop a new modular learning project, which would be piloted at the beginning of 2021, and which introduces various new learning modules (for example driving at night and at high speed).
She also gave an update on the Driver 2020 programme. This work is currently being undertaken by the Transport Research Laboratory which analyses a number of potential technological and educational methods for improving the safety of young drivers. Baroness Vere noted the recruitment of 13,000 young drivers to the project, which she said would be ready by early 2022.
Furthermore Baroness Vere spoke on the possibility of introducing Graduated Driving Licences, saying that her Department was not progressing work in this area at present, although she highlighted that the Driver 2020 programme might look at elements of the approach in its findings.
The Transport Committee will now be considering the evidence that it has received, both oral and written, over the last seven months, before producing a final report with its recommendations, to which the Government will then respond.
Although this marks a return to political prominence for the issue, the answers the Roads Minister gave to the committee don’t suggest that the Government is overly willing to legislate in the immediate future.
More likely is that it will deflect any questioning on the issue by pointing towards the continuing work of the Driver 2020 scheme until that work is finalised (ironically in 2022), and then consider further action as a result of the scheme’s recommendations. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic and wider political situation caused the delay of the Transport Committee’s inquiry into this area, so too is it affecting the Government’s willingness to find the bandwidth to act.