Report casts doubt over pre-driver training14 May 2018

Some schemes have potential to do more harm than good

There is currently no robust evidence to suggest that pre-driver interventions are effective at improving road safety, according to a report for the Scottish government.

The study by TRL says that at least 20,000 young people in Scotland are involved annually in one of 12 pre-driver schemes on offer.

The schemes range from simple classroom-based discussions to real-world off-road driving instruction.

However, the report authors conclude that “none have been demonstrated to be effective at improving safety”.

They are also sceptical about the benefits of “fear appeals”:

“There is a repeated theme whereby interventions typically focus only on consequences without exploring preventative measures or learning in detail. Where dramatic presentations are used, this could lead to feelings of discomfort that are not resolved by offering the young participants potential solutions or coping mechanisms . This raises some ethical concerns and does not reflect best practice in the field of behaviour change.”

The report says the reasons for a the lack of evidence of effectiveness include:

  • too few evaluations (possibly because of a lack of funding or inherent assumption of effectiveness)
  • “an unreasonable expectation that pre-driver interventions can improve road safety in isolation”

TRL says that off-road training has the most potential for “meaningful impact on road safety; however it also has the greatest potential for harm through adverse unintended consequences”.

The report makes several general considerations:

  • “If pre-driver interventions are not evidenced to be effective, then those receiving them are being exposed to unnecessary experiences. If such interventions are effective, then those not receiving them are exposed to an unfair lack of opportunity. Either way, more evidence is urgently required to support the continued application of current interventions.
  • “Pre-driver interventions are currently running in a piecemeal fashion across Scotland. There is a lack of consistency of design, approach and messaging reaching young people. While all interventions have a common aim to improve safety, the way they interact with the other influences and the road safety system as a whole is not clearly defined. This presents an area for potential gain if a coordinated approach can be achieved.
  • “All approaches are limited by real-world constraints of time, usually related to securing time within a school timetable. Road safety in some areas may not afford the same importance as other domains of personal and social education. Limiting pre-driver interventions to potentially one hour per year means it is necessary to set expectations accordingly.
  • “The research activities undertaken highlighted in particular an extremely motivated group of professionals who design, organise and facilitate such events. This is often in the context of a lack of funding and no external support. These individuals for road safety are critical to the roll out and support of any interventions that are implemented in Scotland in the future.”

The report also notes that “the simplest way to control the risk of harm would be to introduce a minimum learner period,”

Commenting on the report Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation said:

“While recognising the well-meaning motives of all those looking to solve the old problem of young driver crashes, the report is clear that the evidence is just not there to support many of the interventions targeting Scottish teens.

“Instinctively we all believe education is a good thing but drumming into young people the tragic consequences of road accidents is neither necessary – they know – nor productive; it rarely alters behaviour.

“Better results might come from less focus on the mechanics of driving and more on the life skills needed to resist peer pressure to drive faster on the way home after a night out.

“Two things conspire against young drivers: their inexperience and an underdeveloped attitude to risk which is a product of their age and the physiological changes their brains are undergoing. Many countries tackle this by insisting on a minimum learning period before you can take your test and then imposing limited restrictions on the driving you can do immediately after you pass your test.”

ENDS

Contact:

Philip Gomm – Head of External Communications – RAC Foundation

philip.gomm@racfoundation.org | 020 7747 3445 | 07711 776448 | 020 7389 0601 (ISDN)

Notes to editors:

The RAC Foundation is a transport policy and research organisation that explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and their users.

The Foundation publishes independent and authoritative research with which it promotes informed debate and advocates policy in the interest of the responsible motorist.

All the Foundation’s work is available on its website:

www.racfoundation.org