Lessons on the road to responsibility

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, a 17-year-old male driver is seven times more likely than a 50-year-old to have a road accident. Concern about this particular statistic is at the root of the New Drivers Act, which became law earlier this year. Under the law any driver of less than two years' experience who gathers six points on his or her licence will be demoted back to learner status.

Many young people see the driving test as an irritating bureaucratic barrier to be overcome and then set aside. Stand on any street corner and you will see motorists behaving - presumably knowingly - in ways which would not have been countenanced either by their driving instructors or their examiners.

Is there any other area of life in which the basics of competence and safety are treated merely as hoops through which you have to jump to pass the initial test? This does not happen with flying, for example, or deep sea diving.

The Driving Standards Agency, which administers the driving test system, set out earlier this year to tell young people how the driving test works and what it aims to achieve.

Volunteer examiners visited schools, armed with videos and anecdotes, on a mission to "de-mystify the driving test". They spoke to audiences throughout the United Kingdom, made up of pupils of driving age or just below.

According to the DSA's Kevin Thomas: "The response has been totally positive. They all found something of interest, depending on whether they had taken any lessons or thought about driving."

The emphasis, he explains, "was all the time on the need for individual responsibility - trying to show how road users of all types have varying levels of responsibility".

Video clips showed the effects of accidents on inexperienced drivers. One of the most effective approaches did not aim to shock with scenes of carnage, but revealed the financial cost of an accident - "not being able to get insurance, not being able to replace the vehicle. This had quite an impact, they were shocked at what it might cost them", says Mr Thomas.

The visiting examiners also took pupils through some theory test questions based on the Highway Code. They were able to dispel some popular misconceptions. "Many people believe we have a quota of passes for example, " explains Mr Thomas, "or that certain mistakes mean an automatic fail. They do not realise that we assess the whole drive."

Cardinal Newman School, a comprehensive in Luton, was one of the schools that took part. According to Jonathan Tucker, senior teacher in charge of the sixth form, many senior pupils have driving lessons. He incorporated the DSA visit into the PSE programme.

"There was only one slot, although we would have liked two or three. The one we had went off very well - the presentation was fun. There were video and slides and the examiner had lots of anecdotes. It went with a buzz," he says.

He hopes to include further DSA visits next year "for Year 12, just coming up to driving age".

The DSA course is free to schools. The agency is now working on an updated version of its presentation. It is starting a file of schools that would like to participate. Interested teachers should write to the DSA, Stanley House, 56 Talbot Street, Nottingham NG1 5GU. Tel: Barry Jones, 0115 9012533

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