Call to put curfew on P-platers

Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday 7 July 2004
By Joseph Kerr, Transport Reporter

A ban on night-time driving, not speed limits, is the answer to cutting the number of young people killed on the roads, says the chief scientist of a US road safety body.

And limiting young motorists' ability to carry passengers would also bring down the road toll, Allan Williams, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told a conference in Sydney.

Speed restrictions in NSW are "crazy", Dr Williams said, referring to laws that impose special speed limits on learner and provisional drivers. "[There is] no research or empirical basis for that sort of speed restriction."

However, in the US, where more and more states are imposing curfews on young drivers - 37 to date - "we have known for a long time that night-time restrictions work".

Many American states ban unsupervised driving for provisional drivers between midnight and 5am - the period when they are most at risk - although Delaware has a 9pm-6am curfew.

So far, 26 states have set passenger limits. In Indiana, for example, provisional drivers cannot carry passengers for the first 90 days unless supervised by a driver aged 21 or above.

Dr Williams said NSW probably had an "effective system, but the question is could it be more effective".

His comments were backed up by another expert who said there was evidence night restrictions could reduce crash rates by 10 per cent. Professor Mark Stevenson, director of the injury prevention and trauma care division of the University of Sydney's George Institute for International Health, urged NSW to introduce a curfew.

A spokesman for the Roads Minister, Carl Scully, said there were no plans to change the system, but the minister was always looking for ways to reduce the number of young deaths.

A Roads and Traffic Authority spokeswoman said young drivers were over-represented in speed-related casualty crashes, and crash data supported retaining special speed limits. In 2003, drivers aged 17 to 25 accounted for 34 per cent of speeding drivers involved in fatal crashes, she said.

In July 2000, NSW introduced a "graduated driver licensing system" for new learner drivers, requiring them to produce a logbook showing they had driven
for at least 50 hours before they could progress to the provisional driver stage.

The 12-month "P-plate" stage was expanded. Drivers must now drive for at least three years at restricted speeds, and extra tests were introduced in an attempt to ensure drivers were more skilled before getting their full licences.

This year the Premier, Bob Carr, reduced the blood alcohol limit for P-platers from 0.02 to zero.

In the US, the night-time rules generally apply only in the first six months of driving, and exemptions were granted for particular needs like employment.


L: learners need 50 hours of supervised driving; maximum speed 80kmh.

Red P: 12-18 months as a provisional driver with 90kmh limit.

Green P: 24-30 months as a provisional driver with 100 kmh limit.

Zero alcohol limit until full licence.

RTA cool on P-plater night curfew

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday 8 July 2004
By Joseph Kerr, Transport Reporter

Any move to put a night-time curfew on young drivers would be difficult to enforce, particularly in country areas, NSW authorities say.

The curfew was proposed by an American road safety expert, but the response of the Roads and Traffic Authority was mixed.

A spokesman said the authority would consider any proposal that might save young lives but such a move "could significantly impact on the lives of many young drivers who are working and studying, particularly in rural areas".

"Curfews also impact on social equity, particularly for country drivers. Novice drivers who need to travel by car to and from work at night would be significantly disadvantaged," he said.

The spokesman said NSW's three-stage graduated driver licensing system was one of the most stringent in Australia.

The Herald yesterday reported comments by local and US academics that night curfews could help bring down youth crash rates, possibly by as much as 10 per cent.

The curfew debate comes as a large study of young drivers continues, with the assessment of thousands of drivers 12 months after getting their P-plates.

The drivers who entered the trial from June last year will be contacted by SMS and email to provide a second sample of their experience of life on NSW roads.

The research project is designed to improve road safety for young drivers by investigating risk factors in crashes and injuries among drivers aged 17 to 24.

It is being conducted by the George Institute for International Health at the University of Sydney with the assistance of the RTA and the NRMA.

The study has 18,000 enrolled participants but wants to reach 20,000 by Christmas. It is looking at road risk perceptions, risky driving behaviour, driving experience before getting a licence, mental health and sleep habits.

Researcher Rebecca Ivers said the aim was to see if there was a risk profile of people from different backgrounds.

Factors under examination included age, gender, socio-economic status, cultural background and ethnicity, as well as how much training drivers had.

A way to save young lives

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday 8 July 2004

The freedoms that come with a driving licence are clear to every young driver. The responsibilities are not so obvious. One way to make them clearer is to make licences harder to get. Sensible restrictions prevent death and injury and produce better drivers.

This is recognised by the graduated licensing system introduced in NSW four years ago. After at least six months on L-plates, new drivers must spend at least a year on red P-plates and another two years on green P-plates. Some restrictions, such as those on speed, are eased as a driver progresses. Others, like the total ban on drinking and driving, apply at all levels. The system insists that a licence must be earned and is not a right.

A visiting American academic now suggests two further restrictions on young drivers. Dr Allan Williams of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that a ban on night-time driving would cut the number of young people killed on the roads. Optimally, such a ban would start at 9pm or 10pm and would include exemptions for work and study. The institute says driving at night is generally more dangerous than in the day, especially for young beginners. Dr Williams also suggests a ban on young drivers carrying teenage passengers. Both measures have been widely adopted in the US and Canada, while New Zealand has restricted night-driving by new drivers since the late 1980s.

Young drivers will protest at more curbs on their freedom. But an abundance of research confirms the effectiveness of both suggested measures. Sydney University's George Institute for International Health says overseas studies show up to a 29 per cent reduction in crashes through bans on night driving. It also says that when a young driver has more than one peer passenger, the risk of a crash increases 15 times.

Beyond that, a ban on teenage passengers for young probationary drivers should be an effective answer to the peer pressure which leads to perilously overloaded vehicles, while a ban on night driving would also help weaken the dangerous nexus between the drinking age and the driving age.

The Roads and Traffic Authority is right to promise a fresh look at the issues raised by Dr Williams. The case for both measures appears compelling and NSW can hardly afford to ignore such important additions to its licensing regime. Young lives depend on them.

It's time to apply the brake on P-platers

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday 9 July 2004

Young drivers will oppose them but passenger limits and curfews are lifesavers, writes Rebecca Ivers.

With no significant decline in the number of deaths on our roads over the past five years, and with young newly licensed drivers over-represented in the road statistics, it is not surprising that innovative strategies such as night-driving and passenger restrictions are receiving considerable attention.

A graduated licensing scheme was introduced across NSW in July 2000. This program is relatively comprehensive, with requirements for a minimum of 50 hours of supervised driving experience, long probationary periods, zero blood alcohol limits and speed restrictions.

However, there is scope for this system to be further expanded and there is convincing evidence that fatalities will drop as a result of introducing night-time and passenger restrictions at the early stages of licensing.

Night driving (or curfew) and passenger restrictions have been successfully incorporated in New Zealand as well as states and provinces across the US and Canada. There is now good evidence that such restrictions reduce fatality rates. Evaluations of night driving restrictions have demonstrated reductions in night-time crashes of between 10 per cent and nearly 30 per cent. Several studies have found that for young drivers, having more than one passenger (of any age) in the car dramatically increases the risk of crashing. Having one passenger in the car does not appear to confer much added risk - but with additional passengers, the risk increases 15-fold.

Debate this week has turned increasingly to the "convenience factor" and the practicalities of implementing such a system. Rightly, questions such as how young drivers could get home from their studies or evening jobs would and should be addressed in any new legislation. Importantly, exemptions from the restrictions for work and education would be an essential part of such a system.

While there remain clear challenges relating to policing of such restrictions, we must stay focused on the real issue - saving lives. It has been suggested that new drivers would simply remove their P-plates and hope not to be caught. But severe enough penalties and enhanced enforcement would ensure that most drivers would comply, ensuring changes at a population level.

Night-time and passenger restrictions may also hinder social or sporting activities in country areas where public transport is not available. Alternative transport systems need to be investigated to help minimise the impact of this.

There are few alternative solutions to reducing crash rates in young drivers.
Although intuitively it would seem that post-licence driver education and training should modify behaviour, the evidence says otherwise. Reducing risk-taking behaviour by decreased exposure to high-risk situations is likely to be a far more effective way of effecting change.

Changes in behaviour relating to drinking and driving were brought about by a combination of legislation, policing and community education. Likewise, education and training alone will not significantly reduce risk-taking among new drivers. High-technology solutions such as speed-limiting devices on cars are also unlikely to be either cost-effective or practical in the short term. In the face of resistance from youth and community groups, it takes a government with a commitment to road safety to make such changes.

However, the Road and Traffic Authority does seem willing to make hard decisions to save lives, as the recent changes to blood alcohol levels for new drivers shows. Resistance to change in the status quo is inevitable, but, as with resistance to random breath testing and seatbelt laws, it will dissipate over time as the death and injury rates drop.

It is likely that parental support for passenger and night-time restrictions for new drivers will be high - no parent wants their teenager killed or seriously injured on our roads. Would those voicing their concerns feel the same if it becomes their friend's life, or child's life that was lost through a lack of action?

Dr Rebecca Ivers is a senior research fellow who works in the injury prevention and trauma care division of the George Institute, based at the University of Sydney.