At FairFuelUK we make a difference. Having so many passionate activist supporters – all 1.1 million of you – has allowed us to help this government deliver lower transport costs for everybody. This, as the Treasury told us, has made a difference to the country’s economy. But Howard Cox and I believe we can help make other differences too - and not just financial ones - important life saving changes. Roads in the UK face many challenges but one of the greatest and most urgent is safety. And road safety doesn’t begin with hectoring anti-car rhetoric it begins with teaching young drivers better and for longer. You probably didn’t know this, but every year we lose 400 lives in young driver accidents, which for a first world economy like ours is completely unacceptable. The cost of such a death toll to our society is half-a billion pounds every year, never mind the intolerable, heart-breaking sadness of so many lives lost. So many families so totally devastated and so much potential needlessly wasted.
For the last five years I’ve been arguing for driving and hazard perception training at school as part of the national curriculum. I believe that every child in this country should be trained at an early age to better understand the seriousness, danger and responsibilities of driving. I’ve had meetings with ministers, MPs, the Department for Transport and even the Select Committee on Transport. And while politicians and civil servants broadly think early driver tuition is a good thing, nothing ever happens. There have been no less than three attempts at a Green Paper on Young Drivers but each one has been postponed and parked with no outcomes. Government, it seems, just doesn’t have an appetite for forcing any significant change in the way young drivers are taught. We at FairFuelUK think there has been too much prevarication and delay and too many needless casualties. Its time to force a change in the way our kids are taught to drive.
And the exasperating thing is that we know early driver training does indeed make a difference. The Swedish government ran a pilot project comparing two groups of several thousand young drivers. One had pre-licence training and the other didn’t. When the accident statistics of the two groups were compared after two years of post-test-driving on public roads, the group who had been trained at school showed a 41% fall in accidents – one of the highest crash reductions ever recorded. There’s a slew of other data too from other countries but it’s not hard to see how compelling the early driver training argument actually is. Trying to get a 17-year-old to absorb road safety messages is like explaining your hobbies to an Easter Island statue – because they’re just not listening. And why would they? Years of Grand Theft Auto 5, Fast and Furious, Top Gear, Grand Prix, Mad Max and Saints Row means that any sensible dialogue about driving carefully with most teenagers is a tough call. The cult of virtual driving on a gaming console has made taking risks on the road a rite of passage and a badge of rank. Sad, but true.
Messages about good driving are better embedded when the mindset is pure – before it’s been corrupted and corroded by ten thousand virtual crashes seen on a computer screen. Train kids about driving responsibilities and hazard perception when they’re as young as 12 and you stand a chance of them retaining and understanding those messages for much longer, maybe even forever. And here’s another obvious point about early driver training. Expecting our kids to learn everything about driving in a short – usually yearlong – window is optimistic in the extreme. Wrestling with clutches, gears and handbrakes as well as learning to spot hazards and dangers at the same time is simply asking too much. The below the dashboard stuff is what they should learn on the road – the hazard perception, road positioning, junction reading and theory should be learnt in the classroom and at special young driving centres. We send our kids out on the roads with not enough theoretical training and that’s why so many of them never come back. We’re not teaching them to drive we’re training them to pass a test. The real craft of driving begins not on the road but in the classroom.
We want a fundamental shift in driver education so it begins earlier in a child’s life to ensure the greatest impact and longest retention. We teach citizenship at school, managing money, on-line safety and how to write a CV. So why is it we don’t teach driving? Of all the skills taught on the national curriculum surely learning how not to hurt yourself and others at the wheel or a car (or riding a bicycle) should be given much greater importance. We’re not, emphatically, not asking to lower the driving age, just the age at which driving is taught. And to those who say young driver training will be an encouragement for some kids to borrow the family car for joyriding – there’s just no data to support that view. We believe the benefits of training kids to drive at school far outweigh any potential negatives. And here’s the chilling statistic around which this urgent campaign is based: 25% of all 15-19 year-olds who die in the UK are killed in cars and a fifth of that vulnerable age group crash within six months of passing their test. This is a shocking, needless death toll that has to change, soon.
With this petition FairFuelUK is using research from the UK’s leading young driver training organization – Youndriver.eu - who have 40 centres nationwide and since 2009 have trained 250,000 12-17 year olds. Their current data shows an accident rate of half the national average for kids who complete the course. The private sector is already doing what the government won’t and the results solidly bear out the early training argument. I’ve already put two kids through Young Driver courses and the difference in attitude is amazing. One of those kids is a console gamer and he now recognizes the critical difference between the virtual and the real. His mind set has changed completely. And to those who say we can’t afford to add driver training to the government’s educational burden, I’d say that we can’t afford not to. Each one of those 400 fatalities costs around a million pounds in NHS, police, ambulance, fire service and insurance costs. Factor in the loss of potential and productivity from all those kids who never reach adulthood and the total bill to our society is virtually incalculable.
That’s why I’m personally asking you as a FairFuelUK supporter to sign this petition. If we can get to 100,000 signatures we get a government debate in the House of Commons and the engagement of politicians. We’ll be forcing a change and stimulating a national debate which will involve TV, radio and newspapers and propel this critical issue into the mainstream. From our experiences with fuel prices, Howard and I have learnt that too many politicians and civil servants don’t understand enough about roads and driving. They need well-argued evidence-based campaigns like ours to inform them for the urgency of change. I believe that this is the most important petition you’ll sign all year and the only one that will literally make a life-saving difference. Together we’ve changed fuel taxation forever, now its time to do something much, much more vital. Please sign up now and get as many friends and colleagues to as well. Get this right and together in the next decade we’ll have helped save literally thousands of precious young lives. There can be nothing nobler or life changing than that. Please sign up now.