2. Context

2. Context

2.1 Introduction

This chapter sets out the key facts and figures relating to young driver casualties in Scotland. It describes the factors influencing young driver safety and presents key statistics about driving test passes. It provides the context for the detailed assessment of interventions in Appendix E.

2.2 Key facts

On average, 34 young drivers (aged 17 to 25 years) were killed, 233 were seriously injured, and 1690 were slightly injured each year in Scotland between 2005 and 20091. This equates to 34% of all fatal, 30% of serious, and 29% of all slight injuries involving car drivers over this time period. The estimated cost to the Scottish economy is £160 million per annum2.

Young males in Scotland are more than twice as likely to be killed or seriously injured driving a car than their female counterparts. Young males and young females are most at risk aged 18 to 19 years. Males aged 18 and 19 years are more than three times as likely to be killed or seriously injured driving a car than those aged 26+, and more than four times as likely as those aged 31+ (Figure 2.1).

Figure 2.1 – Number per thousand population killed or seriously injured while driving a car in Scotland (2005 to 2009 average)3

Source: Analytical Services, Transport Scotland 2010

Figure 2.1 – Number per thousand population killed or seriously injured while driving a car in Scotland (2005 to 2009 average)3

Crashes on Scottish roads involving drivers aged 17 to 25 years often include young passengers – around 45% of who are aged 15 and 59% who are aged 16 years (Scottish Government, 2009a).

Approximately one in five young novice drivers in Scotland are involved in a crash in their first six months of independent driving (Scottish Government, 2009a). Learner drivers tend to be involved in less severe collisions (involving slight injuries or vehicle damage only) than drivers who have recently received their full licence.

The number and proportion of young drivers involved in fatal and serious collisions in Scotland has reduced over the last decade. A comparison of 2005-2009 data with that for 1994-1998 shows a 48% reduction in the number of young drivers killed and seriously injured. In addition, the proportion of all fatal and serious collisions involving young drivers declined from 28.2% to 26.1% over this period (Scottish Government, 2009b, Table 18a).

2.3 Factors influencing young driver safety

The Department for Transport (2008a) has identified five key factors associated with collisions involving younger and older drivers: speeding; drink driving; lack of seat belt wearing; drug driving; and careless driving.

The DSA (2009) has identified the following factors, associated with the high collision rate amongst newly-qualified drivers:

  • over-confidence
  • a lack of the right knowledge, understanding and attitude that make experienced drivers safer, and
  • incomplete training and a practical test that focuses too heavily on vehicle control.

Other influences include: awareness of risks or perception of risk, the amount of driving experience in different conditions, peer pressure, and the driving behaviour of parents/carers and other experienced drivers who provide an example.

Similarly, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (2008) has identified four main reasons, corroborated by others, as to why young drivers have more accidents:

  • inexperience and poor judgement in more difficult driving conditions – for example, young drivers often have a poor appreciation of road conditions and are unable to adapt their driving style to account for factors such as poor weather, poor visibility, minor rural roads, and external pressures including workplace cultures stressing the importance of quick delivery times or maximising the number of visits fitted into a day (Stradling, Meadows and Beatty, 2001)
  • inadequate control of the car, resulting in single vehicle accidents, skidding, overturning, leaving the road – over half of accidents involving drivers aged 17 to 25 years in Scotland occur while vehicles are making general progress along the road, rather than performing particular manoeuvres (e.g. turning, changing lane, overtaking) and approximately a third of collisions in rural areas (37%) occur while manoeuvring around a bend (Scottish Government, 2009b, Table 17)
  • lifestyle and attitude – factors such as alcohol, drugs, and peer pressure are particularly important in the context of social driving at night and weekends (see Figure 2.2); non-use of seatbelts is a contributory factor in these accidents, particularly in the context of passengers travelling in the rear seats, and
  • economic factors – young drivers are more likely to have cheaper, older cars which offer them less protection from injury than newer vehicles and are less likely to be fitted with technology that reduces the risk of a crash occurring, such as differential braking which reduces the risk of loss of control at bends.

Figure 2.2 – Number of drivers in Scotland, aged 17 to 25, killed or seriously injured by time of day, per year – 2005 to 2009 average4

Source: Analytical Services, Transport Scotland 2010

Figure 2.2 – Number of drivers in Scotland, aged 17 to 25, killed or seriously injured by time of day, per year – 2005 to 2009 average

Data for Scotland shows 16:00 to 00:00 hours to be the high risk period during the week, while 00:00 to 02:00 is the highest risk period at weekends. Across Great Britain, over 50% of accidents involving young male drivers that result in death or serious injury occur at night, compared with 35% for older drivers; Friday and Saturday nights are the most risky periods (Association of British Insurers, 2006).

Research published by the Association of British Insurers (2006) covering Great Britain found that that 17 to 20 year olds associate driving with personal status, are more inclined than older drivers to drive for pleasure or thrills, and are more likely to choose not to drive safely. Young male drivers are more likely than others to indulge in competitive driving with others on the road, and this is much more likely to be a contributory factor in collisions5.

Research by mruk Ltd for the Scottish Executive (2005) found that younger men associate driving with power, speed and ‘showing off’ to their friends – they aspire to owning fast, powerful cars and are more likely to display annoyance at groups of other road users who constrain their progress. In contrast, younger females associated driving with freedom and view passing their test as a natural progression to adulthood.

Qualitative research for the Scottish Government (ODS, 2008) concluded that younger drivers rarely consider themselves to be at risk and mostly consider themselves to be good drivers. Passengers reported high levels of trust in their friends as drivers. They were also unsure about the legal limit for drink driving and were more likely to travel with a drink driver if they had also been drinking.

Research carried out by the Transport Research Institute at Edinburgh Napier University (Kinnear and Stradling, 2011) concluded that the higher incidence of crash involvement by younger drivers is partly explained by the fact that the frontal lobe region of the brain does not fully develop until a person is around 25 years old. The functions of the frontal lobe include recognising future consequences of current actions; selective attention; anticipation, feelings and emotions. This can result in a lack of fear or delayed gut instinct amongst young drivers faced with an emerging hazard on the road and thereby a reduced capacity to anticipate danger and take avoiding action.

Findings from a six year study funded by the DfT (Wells et al., 2008) found that age was an important factor in influencing ‘survival times’ (in months or miles) to first accident, with older drivers ‘surviving’ accident-free longer than younger ones post test. Any interventions that delay the onset of solo driving are therefore likely to have a positive outcome. Driving behaviour during the first six months has also been found to be important, with ‘better’ driving behaviours being associated with longer survival times suggesting that post-test training and testing should be undertaken as soon as possible after passing the test.

2.4 Driving test statistics

The following paragraphs present information on the number of driving tests conducted, by age and gender, and the average pass rate. The data indicates the scale of intervention required, and shows the typical age at which young people learn to drive. The information is used to inform the design of interventions, and estimate the potential cost of interventions associated with the testing regime, as part of the detailed assessment of proposed interventions (see Chapter 6).

Between April 2009 and March 2010, 119,960 driving tests were taken in Scotland, of which 46% (55,656) were passes (Table 2.1). Seventy percent (83,769 tests) were undertaken by individuals aged 17 to 25 years. Seventy-four percent of passes (41,065) related to drivers aged 17 to 25 years.

Table 2.1 – Annual car driving test statistics for Scotland (2009/10)

Source: Driving Standards Agency 2010

Gender and Age

Number of tests conducted

Number of passes

% passes

Male (All ages)




Female (All ages)




Total (All ages)6




Male (17-25 years)




Female (17-25 years)




Total (17-25 years)7




Table 2.2 shows that in 2009/10:

  • fifty-four percent of 17 to 25 year olds taking a driving test were aged 17 or 18; and a further 12% were aged 19 years
  • fifty-seven percent of 17 to 25 year olds passing the test were aged 17 or 18, and
  • the pass rate was highest amongst 17 year olds at 55%, dropping to 47% for 18 year olds, and staying at about this level for all age groups up to 25 years.

Trends were similar for both male and female drivers.

Table 2.2 – Age profile of those taking and passing the driving test,
and average pass rate in Scotland (2009/10)

Source: Driving Standards Agency 2010

Age (Yrs)











Taking Test











Passing Test











Pass Rate











In summary, young people are most likely to learn to drive when they are 17 or 18, and those that do so at that age demonstrate a high pass rate. Any interventions aimed at pre- drivers therefore need to be focused on under 17 year olds; and delivered through schools, technical colleges, and employers recruiting large numbers of young people leaving school at 16, and other avenues of particular relevance to this age group.