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Young driving offenders may have to retake test: Nick Walker examines proposals aimed at cutting 'tragic and unnecessary' road deaths

MEASURES to cut 'tragic and unnecessary' road deaths caused by young and inexperienced drivers were announced yesterday. If adopted, even minor offenders could have to retake their driving tests.

More than 1,000 Britons die every year in accidents involving at least one driver aged between 17 and 21 - more than a quarter of all road accident deaths. Drivers in the 17-21 age group represent only 10 per cent of licence holders and have lower than average mileage, yet are involved in more than 20 per cent of all accidents.

'Road accidents are responsible for over three-quarters of all accidental deaths among 16- to 19-year-olds. I am determined to cut this tragic and unnecessary waste of young lives,' John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, said.

His proposals include incentives for motorway and night-driving instruction after the driving test; a separate theory test before the practical test; and more road safety education for teenagers. As a deterrent to those who drive 'aggressively and dangerously' Mr MacGregor proposes new tests for anyone committing offences such as speeding, jumping red lights or crossing double white lines.

The Department of Transport's report on the measures said: 'There is evidence that such offences . . . are often committed deliberately rather than by error or by a lapse of concentration. Such risk-taking is associated with an aggressive driving style and over-confidence which, particularly in new drivers, is strongly correlated with accident liability.'

The proposals could become law by the end of the year. An extended test, similar to the advanced driving test, would be used for the most serious offenders. Other measures in the consultation document, less likely to be adopted, are probationary plates and raising the age of eligibility for a full licence to 18.

The theory test proposal would bring Britain into line with the majority of other European countries. The Highway Code questions in the current driving test would be dropped.

The incentive for post-test lessons would be reduced insurance premiums. The British School of Motoring (BSM) already has a similar arrangement with General Accident. Road safety education would also be provided at schools and sixth-form colleges, though it would be part of the national curriculum. There is currently little education on the issue for young people over 14.

The Government has ruled out measures for younger drivers such as a complete ban on alcohol; a harder and longer driving test; restrictions on passenger numbers and night-time driving.

Calling for a public debate on his proposals, Mr MacGregor said: 'We have been looking for measures which would not pose unreasonable burdens on responsible drivers but which tackle head-on over-confident, aggressive attitudes towards driving. It is these attitudes, combined with inexperience, which cause the majority of new driver accidents.'

The Automobile Association welcomed the proposals. 'Something has to be done and most of the options being considered look to be sound and reasonable,' Andrew Howard, the AA's head of road safety, said.

He added that only a minority of new drivers were unsafe and that over- stringent restrictions would achieve nothing. The AA is developing a psychology test to identify young drivers with unsafe attitudes.

Keith Cameron, road safety consultant for BSM, said: 'We are delighted. These proposals are long overdue. A number of them we have been advocating for a long time.'

Leading article, page 17

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