Road Safety Fears at the Top of the List of Parental Worries​

According to the research from pre-17 driving experts Young Driver, one in six parents says they’re absolutely terrified of their child learning to drive (17 per cent). However, some parents are tackling that fear by doing everything they can to help their offspring become a good driver – including starting them behind the wheel from age 10.

With one in 20 parents saying their child is already a backseat driver, offering advice and critique, some parents are going one step further and allowing their youngsters to try being in the front seat.

Teen expert Nicola Morgan, is an award-winning author and international speaker, specialising in writing for and about adolescent development, performance and wellbeing, including the books ‘Blame My Brain’ and ‘The Teenage Guide to Stress’.

She explains why learning to drive from a younger age can be beneficial: “The brain learns to do anything well by repetition. Every time we repeat an activity, whether mental or physical, we are actually creating and then strengthening physical pathways between neurons (nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord) which allow us to become confident and fluent in something.

“The more times we do something, the stronger those pathways become, the stronger they become, the more ‘automatic’ the skills in question become.

“Learning from a younger age can create a safer new driver when they do go on to pass their test because more repetition, and practice, lays down stronger neural pathways. So, their level of expertise is greater, meaning they will use less brain bandwidth for doing the mechanical parts of driving, leaving them with more brain bandwidth for reacting to road changes and emergencies.

“Psychologically, 17-year olds may feel under pressure to pass their driving test quickly. Partly to gain status with peers, partly because of time pressures of exams and other responsibilities and partly because of financial pressure. This can lead them to have too few lessons. There is a danger in learning to drive very quickly in a short space of time and with the minimum repetitions to pass the test but not to become expert.”

The science is borne out by statistics, which show one in five newly qualified will have an accident within six months of passing their test, rising to 40 per cent of male drivers. Four hundred people are killed on the UK’s roads each year in accidents involving a young driver.

Young Driver is the largest provider of pre-17 driving lessons in the UK, offering tuition to 10-17 year olds in dual control Vauxhall Corsas with fully qualified instructors at more than 50 venues nationwide.

The emphasis of the lessons is on safety, and research with past pupils has revealed they are half as likely as the national average to have an accident when they go on to pass their test. Around half a million lessons have been given since the scheme launched in 2009.

Laura White, head of marketing for Young Driver, added: “As well as the benefits in terms of helping them to become a safer driver when they reach the legal age required to be on the road, getting youngsters behind the wheel also helps them become a safer pedestrian and cyclist. What better way to help them understand stopping distances, or blind spots?”

Road Safety Fears

Working with Nicola Morgan, Young Driver has pulled together the following advice for parents of teens to help them be safe behind the wheel:

  • Ensure that they have enough lessons, spaced out over enough time - although there is no minimum period of learning in the UK, Nicola explains: “Teach teenagers that expertise takes time and practice and that there are no magic tricks or short cuts.”
  • Start young – You can’t drive on a public road until you’re 17. But youngsters can have lessons with fully qualified instructors from the age of 10. Instead of encouraging them to try something ‘forbidden’ it starts creating a respect for the process. Nicola explains: “By giving lessons earlier we ‘normalise’ and demystify the whole subject of learning to drive. They won’t see driving as such an adult activity; they will know that it’s just a set of skills you need to learn.”
  • Practice makes perfect - Once they have a provisional licence and have had some lessons, if you’re confident enough do to so, supervise further driving in your own car, reinforcing what they’re learning with their instructor. Make sure you’re up to date with the latest driving techniques and the highway code. It’s easy to forget the basics if you passed your own test decades ago. Remember, anyone that supervises a learner must be over 21 and have held a full EC/EEA driving licence for three years or more. The car should also be insured for the learner to drive.
  • Take your time - Try not to emphasise the need to pass the test quickly – parents can obviously have a cost motive here, or be keen to stop being an unofficial taxi, but it’s important to allow the teenager sufficient time to learn properly.
  • Practice what you preach - Be a good role model in your own driving. Don’t take risks, don’t over-value speed, reiterate the possibility of other drivers being dangerous even if we are careful, and emphasise the fact that a car is a potentially lethal weapon and that respect must be shown for it and its power.
  • Addressing peer pressure - It's important to remember that when teens have a car full of friends they may feel the urge to drive differently, perhaps more aggressively or competitively. Make sure they know that whenever they get behind a wheel of a car, they are in control. Give them the tools to assert themselves. For example, they could remind their friends that they’re new to driving and need their full concentration to focus on the road. Most good friends will probably feel the same way. How would they feel if they were involved in an accident and one of their friends was seriously injured? By keeping in control they're reducing the risk of getting into that situation.

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