Baby you can drive my car, but safely

5th January 1996 at 00:00
Drivers under 21 account for 20 per cent of all accidents involving casualties. Carolyn O'Grady surveys different routes to encouraging careful motoring.

On Sunday mornings a group of pupils at Shenley Court Sixth Form Centre in Birmingham gathers for a few hours of car driving. Most are under 17, and are not early-morning joyriders - they are taking part in an activity designed to save them and others from injury or death.

It is an optional course of five three-hour driving lessons and 10 weekly lectures on the Highway Code, insurance, what to look for in a second-hand car and attitudes to driving.

The driving lessons are given by a local driving school for only Pounds 5 per student for a two-hour session (three in a car taking turns to drive and observe) and the object, says Vanessa Campbell, assistant head of the sixth form, is to encourage better attitudes to driving. "Young people pick up the skills of driving very quickly but often they don't have right attitudes or sense of responsibility," she says.

At Woodbridge High School in the London borough of Redbridge, groups of sixth-formers have for many years been using the borough's driving simulator as part of a course in road use in the school's "enhancement programme". They learn the basics of car driving and hazard perception at the controls of a car placed in front of a screen. The course is linked to lectures on drink driving, stopping distances, insurance, the Highway Code and car ownership.

These schools are two of a growing number which have decided to take on some of the burden of pre-driver education. Drivers between 17 and 21 account for 20 per cent of all accidents involving casualties, even though they hold only 10 per cent of licences. Of all the accidental deaths of 16- to 19-year-olds, 76 per cent happen on our roads.

It is increasingly recognised that this carnage, as well as the growth of car crime among young people, must be addressed as much by education and training as by advertising and law enforcement.

In July this year the Department of Transport will introduce a theory test to accompany the driving test, a move which many hope signals the beginning of a debate on the whole process of how to teach people to drive.

The move follows the introduction last year of the Pass Plus scheme, which seeks to encourage newly-qualified drivers to take extra lessons after passing their driving tests to earn insurance premium discounts. It covers areas which some road safety experts would like to see made mandatory much earlier in driver training, including a sense of responsibility, courtesy and consideration for other road users, as well as driving on motorways and night driving.

"In initial driver training there's not enough about modifying young people's attitudes to risky driving and peer group pressure," says Cliff Lee, education consultant for the British Institute of Traffic Education Research. "There is nothing to help them acknowledge their own lack of experience and to develop skills and attitudes to offset it."

Like many road safety experts, he would like to see more work done in schools. "Many people think of 16-plus provision. I prefer to think of 14-plus provision including work in schools," says Viv Nicholas of the European Secure Vehicle Alliance, which seeks to reduce vehicle crime and inculcate responsible attitudes to driving.

Already many schools have begun to respond to this idea. About 450 of them are now using Ignition, the British School of Motoring scheme which has become increasingly popular as sponsors come forward. Designed for pre-drivers aged 15-17, the scheme takes as its starting point the concept that the high accident rate of young drivers is a direct result of attitudes and behaviour, and steers students through discussions about driver behaviour and adverts to a video in which a 17-year-old boy describes the effect of an accident which he caused and in which one of his friends died.

Also now available to schools is First Gear, an initiative launched nationally last November by Youth Clubs UK and backed by agencies including the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Department for Education and Employment and the Departments of Transport and the Environment.

Projects under First Gear's banner can be introduced in a variety of settings including schools and youth clubs. They have three components: Behind the Wheel (practical driving experience); Under the Bonnet (car maintenance) and In the Mind, which is about attitudes and responsibility in connection with car ownership and use. Training courses for those running the projects have recently begun and those involved in the scheme have developed back-up materials.

Like many initiatives in pre-driver education, First Gear is seeking, as an additional incentive, insurance discounts for those who reach a high enough standard.

However, though the initiatives and materials may be increasingly available, what stymies many secondary schools is the difficulty of finding a curriculum slot. Most often pre-driver training is found in personal and social education, an already overburdened area, or as an extra-curricular activity.

One part of the country which has wrestled with this problem and seems to have found a solution is Northern Ireland. Due mainly to the fact that road safety education is a central rather than local government responsibility, the subject, with much encouragement from the Department of the Environment (NI), permeates the curriculum in much the same way as cars and traffic issues permeate society.

Secondary schools in Northern Ireland have three approaches open to them and most take them all, encouraged by an allocation for resources of between Pounds 250 and Pounds 300 a year per school from the DoE (NI).

Schools teach the subject on a cross-curricular basis, often with the help of a designated co-ordinator within the school. They also timetable road-user studies, some for GCSE, some as a non-examinable subject, and they can enrol pupils aged 17 and over in a driver training course.

This consists of 12 hours of driver training during school hours, with driving instructors approved by the DoE (NI). A pair of students is taught in each car, taking it in turns to drive and observe. The fee for the course is Pounds 45 for each student, which is subsidised by the DoE (NI).

"The idea is to ensure that they take lessons from a professional experienced instructor, and don't pick up the bad habits of others," says Cathal McKeever, a senior road safety officer with the DoE in Northern Ireland.

The GCSE was introduced in l986, and, as McKeever readily admits, gives status, as well as continuity and progression, to a subject initially associated with low achievers. "Having a GCSE in place permeates the subject at every level. Teachers know they're putting roots down for further study and a qualification."

Recently the Civil Service, by far the biggest single employer in Northern Ireland, gave the subject an enormous boost by agreeing that it could be one of those regarded as acceptable for entry. Northern Ireland educators would also like to see those gaining a C and above in the subject given an exemption from the theory part of the test.

With the overall aim of developing "better-informed and more responsible road users", the syllabus is extensive. Vehicle control and road users' behaviour (50 per cent), legal requirements, evolution of road transport and its effect on society, motoring mathematics, accident procedure and motor vehicle technology are all covered. An investigative study or project accounts for 20 per cent of the marks and may take the form of investigating an accident black spot or some aspect of driver behaviour: one school is looking at gender differences. Also included is "a practical riding activity" involving maintaining and riding a moped.

Why a moped? Practical driving experience was deemed necessary, both for itself and as an incentive to young people, but it would have been prohibitively expensive to supply all schools with cars, says Cathal McKeever. Mopeds are cheap and research has indicated that those children who learn to use a bike or motorbike safely make better car drivers.

Five English schools have introduced the GCSE in Motor Vehicle and Road User Studies, the only subject produced at GCSE level in Northern Ireland which is taken in Great Britain.

It is too early to say whether this approach will save lives, but Cathal McKeever points to recent statistics signifying a lower death toll on Northern Ireland's roads in the 5-18 age group.


* The British Institute of Traffic Education Research has a large range of road safety educational resources in its catalogue. It is also developing its own materials which will,it says, "be discussion-based, flexible and easy to use". BITER, Kent House, Kent Street, Birmingham B5 6QF Tel: 0121 622 24026551.

* The European Secure Vehicle Alliance is investigating ways of integrating driver education into the national curriculum and GNVQs. Enquiries to Viv Nicholas, Secretary, ESVA, 104 The Fairway, Burnham, Slough SL1 8BD. Tel: 01628 661887.

* Ignition contains more than 100 slides, photocopiable masters, video tapes and course books, Pounds 75. There is a mandatory one-day seminar for teachers. Course books cost Pounds 5 for each student. BSM, Merchant Granary, Suite 3, 15-17 Cheapside, Wakefield WF1 2SD. Tel: 01924 298629.

* The Department of Transport publishes Road Safety Education in Schools: Good Practice Guidelines and plans to publish pre-driver educational materials early this year. Information from the Department of Transport, Information Division, Great Minster House, 76 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DR. Tel: 0171 271 4800.

* First Gear. Contact John Bateman, Youth Clubs UK Ltd, 11 St Bride Street, London EC4 4AS. Tel: 0171 353 2366.

* National Association of Motor Projects (NAMP) is the national representative of all motor projects in the UK. Most are organised out of school by a range of different agencies.

* Road Runners organises one-day events including practical driving experience and sessions on the cost of motoring, mechanics, what to look for in a car and accidents. Information on Road Runners and NAMP from: Doug MacNicholl, 138 Overdale, Ashtead, Surrey KT21 1PX. Tel: 01372 815493.

* For information on initiatives in Northern Ireland, contact Cathal McKeever, senior road safety officer, Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland), Road Safety Branch, Southern Education and Library Board Area, 1 Markethill Road, Armagh BT60 1NR. Tel: 01861 525353.

* The Scottish Road Safety Campaign has produced a National Survey of Road User Education in Scottish Secondary Schools (July 1995) which describes innovative ways in which road user education has been incorporated into the timetables of Scottish schools. Scottish Road Safety Campaign, Saughton House, Broomhouse Drive, Edinburgh EH11 3UX. Tel: 0131 4442230.

* Recent new materials: BMW Driver Awareness Pack: A file including teacher's guide, pupils' activities and overhead transparencies, designed "to encourage students to reflect on the complexities and dangers of driving in the context of their own personality and behaviour". Free from E and Y Ltd, Phoenix House, Marshes End, Upton Road, Poole, Dorset BH17 7AG. Tel: 01202 661888.

Motor is a pack of materials for cross-curricular use from the Association of British Insurers which aims to help foster positive driving and to inform young people about the implications of buying a car. It includes a computer program to help pupils calculate insurance costs. Free from: Phil Ward, ABI, 51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ.

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