UNDER-17s should be given more opportunities to drive in controlled environments to help cut the high crash rate among newly qualified motorists, the Automobile Association has urged.
The UK’s biggest motoring group said the move was backed by other drivers, nearly three in four of whom thought it would make young drivers safer.
The AA said a poll of 14,000 drivers who had been involved in a crash showed nearly one quarter of 18 to 24-year-olds had crashed within six months of passing their test.
Official figures for 2010, the latest available, show casualty rates for young drivers in Scotland are falling, but they remain the highest on the roads.
A total of 4.6 drivers per 1,000 population aged 17 to 25 were involved in crashes involving injuries – and 5.4 among males in this age group – compared to 4.1 among 26 to 34-year-olds, three among 35 to 59-year-olds and 1.4 among those 60 or over.
A new AA report, Young Drivers at Risk, published today, calls for teenagers to be given more opportunities to drive in a “safe, off-road environment” before they reached 17. It said: “Providing early driver training would create an opportunity within a controlled environment to teach young people in a practical way about the dangers and risks associated with driving.
“We advocate combining practical lessons with classroom-style road-safety lessons to try to instil a responsible attitude towards driving in young people, rather than just giving them the chance to drive a car before they were 17 years of age.”
On Board Training, which is among several companies in Scotland catering for under-age drivers, teaches children as young as ten at Hamilton Racecourse and the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston in Edinburgh.
They are supervised by qualified instructors using dual-control cars, and have to be tall enough to see over the steering wheel and reach the pedals.
Marketing manager Rikki Bruce said: “It catches them at an age when their brains can absorb so much information easily, and when it is easy to instil in them the right information.”
In addition, over the past two years, some 30 Scottish schools and colleges have pioneered a pre-driving Safer Road User award among 14 to 16-year-olds to get them into the right frame of mind for driving, which also provides a partial credit for the driving theory test.
Nigel Mansell, the former Formula One champion racing driver and a member of the Commission for Global Road Safety, who is helping to launch the AA report, said “This is a vitally important issue which doesn’t get enough attention. Too many of our young people are still being killed or injured on the roads. These are preventable tragedies.”
Philip Gomm, of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, said: “We teach our young people a great deal about lifestyle and health choices at school, so there is a case for introducing them to driving at an early age.”
It is illegal for anyone under the age of 17 to drive on a public road. However, it is possible for them to drive on a private road.
23% of 18 to 24-year-olds had crashed within six months of passing their test.
28% had crashed by the time they were 21 years of age.
63% have their first accident without passengers in the car.
15% of first accidents were blamed on bad weather.
33% of 18 to 24-year-olds have been involved in an accident when driving.
87% of first crashes happen in the day time – only 13 per cent happen at night
47% had first crash on a single carriageway or in a rural area.
5% had their first crash on a motorbike.