Getting off on the right foot

As I caught the morning news earlier this week, I saw a feature on some interesting research from Cardiff University. Researchers had analysed RTA data from 2000 to 2007 and had come up with some intriguing (although not entirely original) recommendations to tackle the ongoing problem.

The proposals call for “graduated driver licensing” – essentially allowing new drivers to experience a little bit more freedom in each of the first few years when they start to drive. Initially, this would mean a night-time driving ‘curfew’ and a ban from carrying passengers of a similar age.

The research included comparisons to drivers in Australia, New Zealand and California, and a quote from the team which compiled the report:

Graduated driver licensing works in other countries and there’s no good reason why it wouldn’t work here.

They may well be right. But I think it’s worth considering a number of other factors which contribute to the problems among young drivers in the UK too.

Firstly, there is the issue of the learning process itself. A bereaved father on BBC News makes a valid point that in many cases learner drivers are simply taught to pass a test, often on a more-bang-for-your-buck intensive ‘crash course’ over just a week or two. I can’t helping thinking that these ‘crash courses’ often live up to their name.

Secondly, there is the issue of the actual cars being driven. This is a point where I have to disagree with the father. He points out that “some of these 17-year-olds are driving brand new cars”. And he’s right.

But I don’t see why anyone should think that’s a negative point. On the whole, newer cars are far safer (for driver, passengers and pedestrians alike) – a point many experts noted as a positive side effect of the scrappage scheme.

[For anyone reading this still lamenting the loss of Rover, it’s worth remembering here that their 100 model still holds the record for worst ever Adult Occupant Protection rating]

The reality for young drivers in this country is that it is actually incredibly expensive to be as safe as possible on the road. Add up the cost of driving lessons, theory and practical tests, a first car that isn’t falling apart, full main driver comprehensive insurance, road tax, servicing, fuel and general maintenance – it will be approaching £10,000 even with something as basic as a 10 year-old hatchback.

I don’t think anyone would dispute that last sentence, but I did wonder how much it would cost if you went for a brand new entry model car; and in particular the effect of this on the insurance premium.

Picking up a 2010 3dr Ford Fiesta Studio 1.25 (great NCAP adult occupancy safety rating – 5 stars with 34 points) will set you back £9,995, which is the OTR + VAT price on Ford’s website. Of course you’ll be able to get one cheaper, but we’ll use this figure for the sake of argument.

Next up – insurance costs. We’ll start with the cost for an 18 year-old, using it for SD&P only, covering 10,000 miles a year, living at home, with a part-time job as a waiter. He’s held a full UK licence for one month, and agrees to pay a £250 voluntary excess on any claim.

Given the research by themselves, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that it takes a few thousand pounds to secure fully comprehensive insurance.

Using the parameters outlined above, the cheapest I was quoted was a chunky £3,433.51 from specialists Quinn Direct. Ordinarily, I’d think this was a huge sum for an annual premium, but then I started scrolling down the list.

Firstly, I was genuinely shocked that this was the only quote under £4,000! The average was probably somewhere around £7,500, with the most expensive policy available to purchase via the web (from 1st Central) coming in at a truly obscene £12,310.99, with a £300 excess on claims.

Marginally less expensive, but arguably more amusing, was ASDA’s boast of an ‘Online Exclusive‘ which was still a whopping £11,236.01, again with a £300 excess.

[NB. below – I think it’s even more unbelievable that for your £11k you wouldn’t even get a courtesy car!]

Both of the latter were available to buy directly on the web (ie, nobody on the other end of a phone would have a chance to say “er, this is clearly too expensive, let me re-quote you“). You could actually pay £12,000 to insure a Ford Fiesta.

That is insane.

Of course, add on six years and it’s all change (despite the fact that you might have actually ‘hung up your keys’ and not touched a steering wheel for five of them).

At 24 years of age, the lowest quote drops to an as-high-as-expected £1,573.50, again with Quinn Direct. The most expensive policy available via the web is still pretty inexplicable, with Broker Direct offering fully comprehensive cover for £6,775.96 – plus they bump up the excess to £450.

The rate of accidents among young drivers in this country speaks for itself, but the answer cannot be to simply make driving unaffordable for the under-25s. Pricing young drivers out of the market on principle is only shifting the problem, not tackling it.

So what do you think?

What changes should we make in the UK?

Should we lower insurance premiums and move the cost onto the drivers who make the mistakes?

Is the answer a government grant to young drivers with ageing vehicles, helping them to trade up to a newer, safer model?

Leave your suggestions in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Getting off on the right foot

  1. Firstly insurance needs to be affordable. If it isn’t more & more people will think to drive without it, which will lead to more people actually doing it.

    Night curfews & restricting passengers etc is all well and good but simply shifts the problem. Even if someone has to drive for 5 years before driving at night it will still be their first time the first time they do it. Same goes with the first time all your mates can jump in the car and go out on a jolly.

    Personally I think the key is to increase the standard of driving for people who pass. To become a pilot you need to complete hours under supervision before being allowed to go out on your own. Why not make learner drivers have to complete a certain number of hours, in the dark in the rain, on motorways, on rural roads in a small low powered car etc before being allowed to progress to the next level. Granted it will increase the cost of learning to drive and lengthen the process, but being able to drive a car is a privelage and huge responsibility not a right. Also if the number of bumps and prangs can be reduced then insurance will be able to remain affordable and in the long run the driver will be better off.

    Its a good point about the car though. Many would want to see young people in low powered sheds. But surely an inexperienced driver should be the one to be in a car with ABS, traction control blah blah blah to help save them if or when they get it wrong. Maybe first time car buyers can be offered a better rate to buy their first new car to enable them to buy newer better vehicles.

    As a final point education is key. New drivers need to be shown and made to understand what can happen in an accident. We’ve all seen huge movie chases etc were people survive crashes & fireballs but reality often deals car occupants a different hand.

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