A NEW “crash map” of Scotland has identified the north east as being the area in which young drivers are most likely to be involved in an accident in which someone is killed or seriously injured.
The map, compiled by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), shows that 192 people have died or been injured in Banff and Buchan over the last six years in crashes involving drivers aged under 24.
Second on the list of the top five is West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, followed by Gordon, directly to the north, in fourth place.
Other rural areas occupy the third and fifth spots while Scotland’s cities appear to be relatively safe.
Road safety experts believe a culture of fast driving among affluent young drivers at the wheels of powerful cars – as well as more long distance driving – in the north east is a major contributory factor to the statistics.
The ABI produced the report, based on Westminster constituencies, to coincide with Road Safety Week this week and it has also published a manifesto aimed at cutting the toll of death and injury. Measures include a minimum one-year learning period for new drivers, a limit on passengers to be carried, a night-time curfew and zero tolerance of alcohol consumption.
“These figures show that over 800 families have been devastated across Scotland between 2005 and 2011,” the ABI says. “That’s more than two families every week.”
Ian Wallace, Chief Inspector and Head of Road Policing for the force in Grampian said he was not surprised to see the north east topping the list.
“There has to be an element of young drivers not adhering to the rules of the road – and our figures show about 30 per cent of our drink drivers are between 17 and 25,” he said.
The latest accident statistics collected by the force showed that a third of all serious accidents in Grampian involved young people.
Wallace believes the relative affluence of the area is a factor. “The north east does benefit in being relatively prosperous and there is no doubt younger people have access to a much better range of cars than they had 10-20 years ago.”
Aberdeenshire police have just completed a programme involving thousands of secondary school children – called Safe Drive Stay Alive – which used dramatic recreation to bring home the devastation of road traffic accidents.
“If you are involved in road traffic policing unfortunately you see the devastation of it, to individuals to families and to communities,” Wallace said. “I am still in touch with some people who have been affected by an accident which happened years ago and it never leaves them.”
Emma Bellu, chief executive of safety campaign group Absafe, said: “There are many contributing factors to Grampian constituencies having the first, second and fourth highest number of young driver deaths in Scotland.
“Higher levels of affluence means younger drivers have easier access to faster and more powerful cars.
“Young drivers in particular have not yet fully developed their risk awareness skills; this comes from experience and maturity and we want to ensure young drivers are fully aware of what can go wrong.”
A 12-month probation period for younger drivers is currently being tested in Northern Ireland while research suggests that carrying several passengers significantly increases the risk of an accident.
James Dalton, the ABI’s Head of Motor, said: “Radical action is needed to reduce the tragic waste of young lives on Scotland’s roads. A car is a potential lethal weapon and we must do more to help young drivers deal better with the dangers of driving.Our campaign for Safe Young Drivers is gaining momentum with a significant number of people supporting our proposals.”
Mark McDonald, SNP MSP for north east Scotland, said he supported the idea of graduated licences, which place restrictions on newly qualified drivers.
“Deaths on Scotland’s roads are down by 11 per cent on last year while casualties overall are down by 4 per cent,” he said. “It is still the case that young drivers – the group most likely to be newly qualified – remain substantially more likely to be involved in a road accident.
Westminster transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the UK Government was considering the ABI’s proposals. “I read regular reports where three or four young people have been killed in a car and it’s a new driver and you wonder what happened,” he said.
Case Study: Laura Thomas
LAURA Thomas was 19 years old when she was killed after a drink driver hit her car on a rural road in the Banff and Buchan region.
Four other people were seriously injured when Ian Smith, 21, lost control of his Renault Megane on the A981 Fraserburgh to Strichen road in 2010. He has been giving a friend a lift after a night boozing at his home when his car careered on to the opposite carriageway and struck Laura’s Ford Ka.
Smith of Memsie, Aberdeenshire, later admitted a charge of death by dangerous driving while twice the drink drive limit when he appeared in court. He was jailed for four years, but what happened to her daughter has left Laura’s mum Sherri, 44, with a hole in her life she finds hard to fill.
Sherri, who lives in Gamrie, Banff, believes a zero tolerance approach to alcohol should be introduced to help prevent tragedies on the road. She added: “They definitely need to do something. I recently heard on the news that they were thinking of lowering the driving age to 16 which I think is just ludicrous.”
The legal firm worker believes the Banff and Buchan area could be a hotspot for road collisions involving younger drivers because of the long and fast stretches of roads. She said: “Some young drivers think because they win PlayStation games driving at 200mph then they can drive like that when they pass their tests.”
Laura and her sister Kelly had been taught to drive responsibly by Sherri’s partner Stephen Jefferies, who works as a driving instructor. She said: “What I would suggest is that there are limits placed on the power of cars young drivers can drive. They have restrictions on bikes so why not cars as well? That would probably help stop the boy racers. It would be a good idea to limit the number of passengers allowed in a car with a new driver and a curfew would be good too.”