THE death toll of teenagers behind the wheel could actually increase as a result of a government road safety initiative in colleges, according to a charity.
RoadPeace, a lobby organisation for "road traffic victims", says the Government's strategy, launched in March last year, could prove counter-productive.
It highlights the decision to allow driving instructors to give safety presentations in colleges, claiming these sessions merely whet young people's appetites for taking lessons earlier than they would have done.
Similar education projects around the world have had the effect of earlier licensing of youngsters, according to research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Drivers aged 17 to 21 are twice as likely to be involved in crashes involving injury, says the charity.
For this reason, the charity argues, "such education programmes increase rather than decrease the proportion of road deaths".
"There are about 3,500 road deaths each year in the UK, with more than a million deaths worldwide," said Ian Roberts, RoadPeace's patron. "Road safety policy must be based on the best possible research evidence. Otherwise we will just repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to know what works in road safety. Focus groups and attitude surveys may tell us what sort of policies people like, but they won't tell us whether they will work."
The training package for 16 to 18-year-olds, designed by the Driving Standards Agency, includes presentations by driving examiners on selecting an instructor, theoretical and practical tests, and general road safety information.
The claims are hotly contested by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, which stresses that the UK's accident rate is the lowest in Europe, and that this country has the best driving record among the 26 leading industrialised nations.
"We would dispute the ludicrous claim, for which there is no evidence. We are not encouraging people to take the driving tests," said a spokesman for the department.
"The Driving Standards Agency is merely saying that if you are considering taking the test, then here are a few things you might like to consider."
RoadPeace, which was set up in 1992, also campaigns on issues such as red light violation, drink-driving, speeding and reckless driving.