1st July 2019
The latest snapshot on young driver safety around the world
The safety of young and newly-qualified drivers has always been one of Trak Global Group’s core focusses, as evidenced through our Carrot Insurance business’ seven years at the forefront to date.
With our primary global markets now experiencing the fullness of summer, which organisations including the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have periodically described as the ‘deadliest’ time of year for young drivers, we look at the latest safety, technological, social and other developments relating to this group of motorists.
Summer a particularly risky time for young and new drivers
In the U.S, the AAA has over the last few years continued to describe the summer months and more specifically the period between Memorial Day in late May and Labor Day at the start of September as the “100 deadliest days”, reporting that almost 3,500 road fatalities involving teen drivers have tragically occurred between 2013 and 2017 according to crash data1. The AAA asserts that the daily rate of such incidents is 17% higher during the summer than other days of the year, and it’s unfortunately but unsurprisingly the same story in the UK, IAM RoadSmart3 stating that “summer is the peak season for rural road deaths and serious injuries, particularly during the holiday months of July and August”, while the Huffington Post reported that “in summer, young people account for 21% of all deaths on the road.” However, the media also frequently reports on the safety and insurance premium benefits being experienced by growing numbers of young drivers who have adopted telematics usage-based insurance, which is undoubtedly helping to counter such seasonal trends and boost road safety in general.
Illegal mobile phone use among young drivers in Belgium
Smartphone use, significantly fuelled by social media, has unarguably proliferated in recent years, but after so many welcome campaigns from governments, councils, road safety and other organisations, it’s somewhat disheartening that a fresh study from road safety body Vias identifies that ‘one third of young drivers use [a] phone behind the wheel’, as reported by the Brussels Times in Belgium4. A fifth of the Belgian drivers aged between 18 and 30 that Vias communicated with in compiling its report admitted to making or taking phone calls while driving, which we acknowledge could in some instances be via Bluetooth but this clarify isn’t provided, while 6% said they have taken a selfie while driving, which is arguably even more concerning. Stef Willems, a spokesperson from Vias, told the newspaper that despite young drivers of this age group comprising 16% of Belgian motorists, they are involved in 31% of the country’s fatal or serious road traffic accidents (RTA).
Recent UK studies highlight areas for continued improvement
Here in the UK, a recent poll by Privilege found that while 11% of all drivers are tempted to look at their phones for social media and other updates while driving, 23% of 18-to-34-year-old respondents admitted to such behaviour5, indeed making it concerning that the threat of six immediate licence penalty points, a potential fine of up to £1,000 and other deterrents may still be deemed by some drivers as not enough of a prevention. Other unwise actions such as engaging in arguments with a passenger, not concentrating enough, slowing down and ‘rubber-necking’ at accidents, overtaking cyclists too closely and cutting other drivers up were also flagged up in the study as areas in which young drivers and millennials can still make improvements.
More Than, a Trak Global Group client that benefits from our expertise in data analytics, found that 16% of the drivers aged 18-25 spoken with had been involved in crashes because of being distracted by friends carried as passengers6, which perhaps pinpoints an area that awareness campaigns would do well to concentrate on. Concurrently, 19% were prone to eating or drinking while driving and an unspecified number feel pressured into showing off behind the wheel. However, we share Gareth Davies from More Than’s sentiments that “the majority of young drivers drive well.”
Unsafe tyres identified as a problem in Dubai
As part of its Vision Zero safety programme, world-renowned tyre manufacturer Continental has been carrying out spot-check tests7 at two universities in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where Trak Global Group has operated for a number of years. Continental along with its local tyre partner identified that 44% of the 331 cars assessed had one tyre fitted that didn’t meet acceptable levels of safety such as under or over-inflation, unsafe wear on some part of the tread or sidewall, damage of some kind or tyres that have exceeded their replacement dates. Just over 6% of the American University in Dubai and University of Dubai students’ cars inspected were found to require all four of their tyres replacing.
Continental commissioned a YouGov survey as part of its safe tyre initiative among students, with the concerning findings that 55% of young UAE drivers aged 18-to-24 hadn’t checked their cars’ tyres in the last month and 11% don’t perceive tyres as important. With the UAE’s Ministry of Interior and National Transport Authority having identified that drivers aged between 18 and 30 contributed to 45% of the region’s 468 road accidents in 2018, it certainly seems that raising educational awareness in the country over tyre safety would be beneficial.
Our Carrot Insurance brand regularly posts tips, reminders and other information on its social media channels to encourage its young driver policyholders to check their tyres’ tread depths and pressure regularly, which can be as simple as using a 20p coin as suggested by TyreSafe.
Fascinating but concerning findings regarding parents
Leasing Options recently set out to answer whether “overprotective parents are making their kids worse [drivers] behind the wheel” and learnt that of the 18-24-year-olds surveyed, 1 in 10 of them who were partly taught to drive by their parents have already received driving licence penalty points, while the same proportion of family-taught young drivers have received driving bans8, which is concerning to say the least.
As road safety advocates and pioneers ourselves and with Carrot Insurance’s telematics-based products and solutions having reduced young driver accident frequency by 42%, we weren’t surprised by Leasing Options’ findings that 50% of the parents polled say they use GPS trackers, apps or similar devices to monitor their young sons and daughters’ driving. At the same time, though, we don’t believe in holding young drivers back from real-world experiences. Doing so can prove stunting and detrimental, but this is something that over 25% of the surveyed parents admit to, prohibiting their children from long journeys. At a time when learner tuition now encompasses motorway driving, and ‘smart’ stretches are spreading across the UK, we believe that typically quick-learning youngsters often benefit from as much experience behind the wheel as possible, providing they adhere to all road laws along with other common sense tips and advice such as taking breaks at least every two hours, and limiting their driving in the dark.
Young driver safety campaigns we welcome
It’s always encouraging when various organisations and businesses around the world launch messaging targeted at raising awareness of road safety among young drivers, and late May saw the Scottish Government’s Safer Scotland team release a video9 entitled “Drive like gran’s in the car” as part of their wider Drive Smart programme. The video shows a young driver called Alistair driving at 42mph in a 30mph zone whereby the figurine on his car’s dashboard turns into his gran when he begins to speed, and the very important message is communicated that a car’s stopping distance almost doubles from five cars to nine when travelling at 42mph as opposed to 30mph.
Omnibus research from Censuswide Scotland has found that while factors including being late, driving with friends as passengers, the desire to overtake and being presented with quiet roads makes young males in particular more included to break the speed limit, it conversely identified that the presence of children or grandparents in the vehicle often makes such drivers slow down. June saw the campaign’s TV, cinema, online, podcasts, PR and other media start to be complemented by interactive roadshows throughout Scotland, and any such road safety initiatives are to be embraced.
In the state of Michigan, the counties of Livingston and Mason have for the last year been trialling a new program called Sheriffs Telling Our Parents and Promoting Educated Drivers (abbreviated to STOPPED) aimed at the under-21s. The scheme10 is reliant on parents registering any cars driven by the young adults in their family, after which a sticker including an ID number is displayed on the rear window. If police or other relevant bodies stop one of these young drivers’ vehicles, the parents will be automatically and immediately notified either by email or SMS text message. Parental notification has interestingly been in operation in Michigan for almost a decade but previous iterations used postal mail, which is obviously much slower. A motor insurer has donated to the STOPPED program, which may understandably be perceived as spy-like by some young adult drivers, but we again welcome any efforts to keep them safer on the road.
Chevrolet takes physical steps to keep young drivers safer
The GM-owned OEM most commonly thought of in relation to the American market has taken the step of fitting to its Traverse model for 2020 a driving feature or ‘circuit’ that prevents the vehicle’s ignition from being started unless the driver’s seatbelt is fastened, although learning that ‘Buckle to Drive mode’ has to be enabled somewhat dilutes the safeguard’s potential effectiveness. Chevrolet11 has revealed to the press that it has conducted extensive research surrounding the safety risks of not wearing seatbelts, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other stateside organisations say is lower among teenage drivers in the U.S than any other country, with ‘most’ teenagers involved in fatal crashes found not to have been belted up.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has evaluated Chevrolet’s Teen Driver Buckle to Drive system and found that it increases seatbelt use by 16% compared to the basic audible warning American cars sound. This latest system is part of the Team Driver System12 that the manufacturer has been rolling out since 2015, including features such as disabling audio until front-seat occupants are buckled (which we feel should apply to rear passengers, too), automatically activating all of the vehicle’s safety technologies, preventing the gear selector from being shifted into drive until the driver is fastened correctly, and even allowing parents to set vehicle speed and audio volume limits that are assigned by ID to the key given to the family’s young driver. We are very pleased that such systems are being designed for young drivers and hope that more OEMs follow this route, as RFID driver identification plus strides in telematics technologies are eliminating any feasibility barriers.
Seatbelt use in the UK
Remaining with the subject of seatbelts, UK road safety charity Brake reported at the start of this year that 49% of the young drivers it surveyed have travelled in a car with either the driver or a fellow passenger who was not wearing a seatbelt, 36 years after it was made legally obligatory in the UK. We wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of Brake’s director of campaigns, Josh Harris, who commented to the media13: “Soon we will see seat belt reminders made mandatory on all seats in new cars – a great step forward. Unfortunately, we’ve found that young people are most exposed to this issue and they are far less likely to be purchasing new vehicles. We need the Government to target safety campaigns at the younger generations to make sure they hear loud and clear that seat belts save lives. Ultimately every death on the road is preventable but a death of someone not wearing a seat belt could so easily be avoided.”
Young drivers’ contribution to changing mobility
We regularly discuss the evolving mobility sector on our blog so it’s therefore interesting that at a time when South Africa’s youth unemployment rate sits at 55.2%, growing numbers are turning to driving for ridesharing provider Uber14, which has even helped some to flourish in their preferred careers, such as Menzi Mngoma who performed opera to one of his rider-customers15, Kim Davies, who works in the music industry. After Kim uploaded a video of Menzi’s rendition to YouTube, he has since featured on a breakfast show in the country and had his music professionally recorded in a studio with the help of an experienced producer and vocal artist. Numerous other young Uber drivers in South Africa are utilising the gig economy’s flexibility to their advantage to enable them to simultaneously pursue their aspirations while earning a living.
Similarly, Channel News Asia recently reported16 that increasing numbers of young people are working as private hire drivers, attracted by the uncapped income potential and relative freedom of self-employment. Of the 41,000 private hire drivers registered in Singapore, 44.4% of them are aged between 20 and 39 years of age. Many of them work for Grab, one of the country’s leading tech-based ride-hailing, transport, mobility and food delivery operators, while others drive for Go-Jek, a smaller operator which unusually provides its drivers with extended medical leave insurance, mobile phone data savings plus fuel rebates. Despite such jobs’ popularity, though, voices such as transport economist at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, Dr Walter Theseira, perceive these young drivers as having no career path or marketable, transferable skills, leading to societal concerns being expressed.
While challenges such as seatbelt use, tyre maintenance and smartphone distractions unsurprisingly persist to an extent in some countries, the growing number of road safety initiatives being launched aimed at young drivers is encouraging and it will be fascinating to see how societal and mobility evolutions increasingly shape this demographic. Meanwhile, telematics usage-based insurance solutions and other tangible initiatives will continue to play a key role in keeping young drivers safer on the world’s roads.
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