Chris Bullock: Young, fast, male - a lethal combination

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Often in life, there is a stark contrast between perception and reality. Nowhere is this gap more acute, or dangerous, than when it relates to our nation's driving habits.

While the UK can be proud as one of the most road-safety conscious nations, we have problem areas that are not being addressed, particularly in driver education.

Ten people a day die on our roads. For many years, people referred to these tragedies as accidents. But that's a bit of a euphemism: we at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) now use a harsher term - crash - as a reminder that they are avoidable and caused by driver error.

We are less likely to die on the road in the UK than in France or Spain. But that means nothing to the parents of a girl who is killed because her teenage boyfriend has just wrapped his car around a tree, with her in the passenger seat.

Are all those crashes being caused by a small group of below-average drivers? Or could it have more to do with attitudes that underestimate risk and overestimate ability?

A survey this week by "lad mag" Max Power said more than 80 per cent of young men think they are good or very good drivers.

But two-thirds of them describe their driving as fast and a quarter admit that they are aggressive.

Road Casualties Great Britain 2002 -- the Transport Department's official statistics -- shows that the 17-to-24 age group suffered the highest number of deaths and serious injuries (3,144) of any age group, more than double the next driver age group, 25- to 29-year-olds. Young male drivers are roughly three times more likely to kill themselves than young females.

The situation is even more stark for their passengers, with 2,290 17- to 24-year-olds suffering fatal or serious injuries in road collisions.

Closer inspection of the survey results reveals the reason for the discrepancy between how these young drivers see themselves and how they behave when they are behind the wheel.

Asked to describe their driving: 86 per cent rated themselves as good or very good drivers; 73 per cent considered their driving to be controlled; 64 per cent felt confident.

However, in the same sample: 62 per cent described their driving as fast; 38 per cent as risky or exhilarating; 25 per cent as aggressive; 11 per cent dangerous or erratic.

Asked what might make them a better driver, only 14 per cent said reading the Highway Code.

The IAM feels the time is right for an education- and training-based approach to developing responsible driver attitudes. The reality is that we have to win hearts and minds. This won't be achieved by preaching, or by warnings of dire consequences.

Young drivers are more likely to be persuaded by immediate benefits: they want to keep their licence, afford a better car and even (since three-quarters of women are scared by their boyfriends' driving) become more attractive to the opposite sex.

Young drivers should be offered courses to positively influence their driving habits. That is why we at the IAM have launched Max Driver, a joint venture with Max Power magazine. It might seem an odd combination. But we both believe that this move could herald a fresh approach to casualty reduction among a very vulnerable group.

If any scheme can put a more mature head on to young shoulders, Max Driver can.

Details are available at www.max-driver.com or by calling 0208 996 9686

The writer is chief executive of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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