For fleet managers, however, youthful members of the team also represent the potential for disaster. They are far more likely to career off the road or into someone else than those of more advanced years.
Conscious of this, road safety charity Brake is urging fleets to take action to mitigate the dangers posed by young drivers to themselves, other road users and the company.
Keeping younger employees safe brings many tangible benefits – reduced insurance premiums and vehicle repair costs, better staff morale, reduced chance of prosecution for duty-of-care breaches and, of course, fewer injuries and/or deaths.
Road crashes are the single biggest killer of 17 to 24-year-olds – especially young men. Some 13% of licence holders are under 26, but 29% of drivers killed fall into this age group. And an 18-year old driver is more than three times more likely to be involved in a crash than a 48-year-old. Most at risk, as one might expect, are men – 85% of drivers who die on the roads are male. This is partly because, on average, men do higher mileages than women, but research suggests men are also more likely to take risks. And men under 20 are seven times more likely to be injured in a crash than male drivers as a whole.
Attitudes and behaviour
Younger drivers are quick to pick up the basic skills of driving, but once they pass their test often feel confident that they have mastered the art of motoring.
They may drive unsafely but feel in control – and this over-confidence can lead to accidents. Many youngsters also admit to feeling immortal, and think that crashes only happen to other people. Research in the 1980s found that young drivers rarely consider the serious consequences of risk-taking – death, injury etc – and instead consider less serious results such as speeding tickets.
A study in 2,000 found that, rather than regarding driving as serious and potentially dangerous, many young people view it as an enjoyable and exciting activity.
Hazard awareness is often poor among the young, which research shows is a significant contributory factor to crash risk.
Drivers in their teens are also 10 times more likely to be in a drink-drive crash than motorists in their late 30s. An active social life may lead to the mistaken belief that one or two drinks before driving is safe. And one in five drink-drivers are caught the morning after, when there is still alcohol in their system.
Government figures show that 35% of men and 23% of women aged 16 to 24 have taken illegal drugs during the past year, which can seriously impair a driver’s ability and affect behaviour and responses for days afterwards.
When the sun goes down, the risk goes up, and it is not just partying that is the problem. A study by University College London shows that male drivers are 17 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured between the hours of 2am and 5am. Young drivers may believe that because the roads are quieter at night it is safer for them to speed, but darkness brings visibility problems which, when combined with tiredness, can be a killer.
What to do
Brake has a range of advice for fleets looking to reduce the risk posed by young drivers to both themselves and their company.
Firstly, carry out a risk assessment. Analyse recorded incident data, including near-misses and scrapes to identify common crash causes and which types of drivers are most at risk.
Review company policies using the results – for example, you might decide to introduce random drug and alcohol testing on a Monday morning to combat morning-after drivers still over the limit.
Perhaps investigate the possibility of young and new drivers being restricted to lower-risk routes or schedules that allow them to avoid driving at certain times of the day.
Assess, train and educate drivers regularly and ensure your induction training is carefully targeted to common behaviours and attitudes of young drivers.
Training should include group discussions to use peer influence as a way of encouraging safe driving, and a debate about what makes a ‘good’ driver – not necessarily technical skill, but behaviour that is least likely to lead to death and injury.
Case study: Centrica
JON York, Centrica’s fleet compliance manager, oversees a fleet of 9,465 vans, 2,700 company cars and 1,300 ‘cash for car’ drivers.
The firm has introduced a range of initiatives to help keep its drivers safe, focusing particularly on the young.
Examination of data revealed that young drivers face a high risk, and so Centrica developed an induction programme tailored for them.
‘The one-day programme includes an on-road risk assessment with feedback, a vehicle, eyesight and licence check and a paper-based risk assessment that relates to drivers’ experience, knowledge and attitude,’ York says.
‘After this, trainees receive two briefings, one on vehicle issues such as maintenance, repairs and what to do in a breakdown and one on driver safety.
‘Drivers’ performance following the training is currently being monitored to establish the scheme’s effectiveness.’
Additionally, Centrica has reprogrammed 3,000 new vans so they cannot exceed 70mph, with the aim of reducing high-speed motorway collisions and improving fuel efficiency. All the firm’s vans should be reprogrammed within the next four years.