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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 23:25 GMT 00:25 UK
Road safety campaign 'may backfire'
Car crash
Teenage drivers are involved in 13% of crashes involving injury
Government plans to teach school children about safe driving could actually result in an increase in deaths, warn scientists.

They say teaching road skills in schools will lead to an increased number of children driving at an early stage and that this in turn could lead to more accidents.

But the government defended its road safety strategy and said was vital teenagers learn the safety skills rather than being left to pick up bad habits.

It plans to achieve a 40% reduction in road deaths and serious injuries by 2010.

Crash risks

And as drivers aged between 17-21 make up 7% of licence holders, but are involved in 13% of crashes involving injuries, this age group is particularly being targeted.

Earlier licensing could offset any beneficial effect of driver education and increase the number of teenage road traffic crashes

Report author
The Driving Standards Agency offers students aged 16 to 18 a special educational driving package including presentations by driving instructors, theory, practical tests and a range of road safety issues.

Last December the number of these courses was doubled by the government.

Professor Ian Roberts and colleagues from the Institute of Child Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied three evaluations of the same sort of programme the US, Australia and New Zealand.

And they discovered that the courses led to teenagers taking their tests sooner.

The report said: "A major concern with driver education is that it might encourage teenagers to obtain a driving licence and start driving sooner than they would have otherwise.

Teenagers should learn good theory
"Because teenagers have a higher risk of road death and serious injury than any other age group, earlier licensing could offset any beneficial effect of driver education and increase the number of teenage road traffic crashes."

Professor Roberts said: "There are about 3,500 road deaths each year in the UK with over a million deaths each year world-wide.

"Road safety policy must be based on the best available research evidence.

"Otherwise we will just repeat the mistakes of the past."

Theory lessons

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) said it was important teenagers were given proper driving theory before being allowed to go behind the wheel.

"Pre-driver education and training should not be about helping young drivers get their licences more quickly and not about developing vehicle control skills.

"But it should address the risks involved in driving and the responsibilities involved in driving so that positive attitudes can be developed for when they eventually start driving."

A spokesman for the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions said they backed the road safety scheme, which was about young drivers not picking up bad habits.

"We think the best thing to do is to teach them these skills before they pick up bad habits.

"To teach them good road sense and road skills."

The study was published in the Lancet.

The BBC's transport correspondent Simon Montague
"The 17-21 years age group is vunerable"
See also:

17 Jul 01 | Health
'Ban mobiles when driving'
05 Apr 01 | Health
Drink and tiredness cause crashes
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