Sobering Statistics for Young Drivers

Friday, 26th February, 2016

Ask any young person if they should enjoy a heavy night drinking before driving home and you’ll find they shake their head incredulously. Of course not! Young people aren’t, as they’re often portrayed, completely irresponsible. But, it seems that there are some young motorists aged between 17 and 24 years of age who are not completely aware of the dangers of drinking and driving - as the results of a new survey reveals.

Why is this so important? Well, according to the road safety charity, Brake, 1 in 7 UK road deaths result from crashes where the driver was over the drink drive limit. It’s also thought that a further 65 road deaths a year are caused by drivers who are under the legal drink drive limit, but nonetheless have alcohol in their blood. Yet, despite much government campaigning, some young drivers aged between 17 and 24 lack of basic understanding of drink driving limits.

Age doesn’t always mean you’re mature
Having surveyed 1,000 young people across the UK, the results found that four in five young drivers opted not to get behind the wheel early in the morning after a heavy night of drinking. However, Cardiff’s young drivers didn’t fare so well, with 28% admitting to driving the next day before it was safe to. Adequate time makes us safe to drive – not just food, caffeine or sleep. But, while responses from drivers in Cardiff were cause for concern, young people in Newcastle and Scotland scored best of all, with only 14% driving the next morning – a great effort for dispelling myths surrounding drinking cultures in the North East and over the border.

James Bell, aged 18 and a newly qualified driver, offered his opinion on the results. “I think it’s fair that young drivers get a bad reputation as some of us aren’t very mature and don’t know the limits," he said. "But I wouldn’t be surprised if one in five over 35s or 55s do the same. We all know people like that. Age doesn’t always mean you’re mature. Older people in my family think that because they’ve never had an accident or been pulled over they’re OK to have two or three pints, and it gives them a false sense of confidence”.

However, it’s disappointing to see that 22% of male respondents across the UK said they’d driven in the early morning more than once, which indicates a lack of appreciation for the law and other road users by some young drivers. (Yet, the survey pleasingly stated that 78% of male respondents and 89% of female respondents didn’t entertain making the same mistake on more than one occasion). So why are a handful of young drivers taking a risk?

One reason could be that 17 to 24 year olds aren’t always residing in their own properties after consuming alcohol. James explained that, "It can be awkward if you’ve slept on a mate’s sofa and their parents want you to leave when you’re hungover. You feel pressure to drive before you maybe should do. But me and my friends just ring first and make sure it’s ok if we stay until late in the afternoon. Or, we just take cash out so that we can’t drink more than a safe limit.”

Do Young Drivers Get a Tough Time Unfairly?
Are we being too hard on young drivers? Well, take a look at a question that was put to the 1,000 young drivers in the survey. How many units of alcohol are there in a 250ml glass of 12% wine? What about in a 5% pint of lager? There are three units of alcohol in both, but astoundingly, 92% of survey respondents answered this question incorrectly.

However, while those at the higher end of the age bracket (aged 21 to 24) might be more likely to order a pint or a glass of wine at the bar, it’s less likely that 17 to 20 year olds are doing the same, as James explained. “Most of us in my group are ordering spirits or pints of cider. We don’t really drink wine! And the number of units aren’t very clearly displayed. It should be made bigger, like the warnings on cigarette packets, because we just don’t know”.

This lack of knowledge is disturbing due to the fact it indicates that many young drivers are accidentally exceeding safe driving limits. Liz Brooker, a spokesperson for Road Safety GB recently told the Telegraph that, "Some people still think of a drink driver as someone who drinks copious amounts and gets in the car. They don’t realise that they could be a drink driver too, by having a small amount to drink and taking to the road". It seems, therefore, that there’s more work to do on educating young drivers about the the alcohol content of each drink: after all, they don’t know what they don’t know.

Unfortunately, the survey revealed another knowledge gap for some young drivers. When asked how long it takes for the average person to process a unit of alcohol (so that there’s none left in their blood stream) just 31% of young drivers responded correctly, answering that it took at least one hour.

"It’s a tricky question to answer," said James. "I don’t think there’s a rule. So I’d probably guess it wrong just to be careful! I’d say 1.5 hours to be on the safe side. The problem is that we don’t cover it at school, and although it was in my theory test it wasn’t talked about by my driving instructor, or my friends’ instructors. So, we don’t really know about units and how long it takes to get out your system”.

Given the lack of certainty surrounding safe alcohol limits, Brake’s #fittodrive campaign asks that drivers pledge not to drink a drop, which is good advice for all drivers – but particularly those who haven’t done their homework on the repercussions of driving over the limit. As well as endangering their lives, and the lives of others, more than half of those questioned had no idea they could be fined an unlimited amount if found to be above the safe drink driving limit, and 49% had no idea that they could face up to six months in prison too.

“I know that driving over the limit could mean I end up killing someone," said James. "So, that’s enough punishment and reason not to drink and drive. But it would be good if all drivers – younger and older - had to do a drink awareness course once they’ve passed their test, before they’re given their licenses”. This suggests, therefore, that our young drivers would respond best to proactive measures, rather than reactive punishments.

Overall feedback is encouraging
Finally, the drivers were asked two non-alcohol specific questions. When asked how many points had been added to their driving licenses, 18% responded that they’d earned three points or more in their first three months of driving. While that is a lot of points accumulated so early in a driving career, it shows that almost three quarters of young drivers are sticking to the law and keeping their licenses clean. And, though 56% had been in a risky situation or near a crash (as a driver or a passenger) between one and four times already, almost half had not.

So, though there are a number of young drivers behaving irresponsibly, or even illegally – they don’t represent all young drivers. In fact, drivers of all ages have come a long way, as Shaun Helman (head of Transport Psychology at the Transport Research Laboratory) confirms. “Compared with 50 years ago, drink driving is now very much minority behaviour. This change has been achieved through firm laws, highly visible enforcement, and a sea-change in public attitudes; drink driving is now frowned upon by the vast majority of people”.

Liz Brooker, the road safety and sustainable transport manager at Road Safety GB said, “It is vital that young people know the risks and effects of drink driving for their own safety but also on their ability to staying on the right side of the law. A drink drive conviction will impact on their careers, their ability to travel freely, and their home life. The drink drive conviction is considered shameful and a pretty stupid thing to do by many young people. The fact that one drink may put you over the limit needs to be understood, drinking at home or preloading before a night out will seriously impact a driver the following morning. Education on drink driving is a must! "Drivers of all ages find it hard to calculate their drinks in to units, not just the young; units affect us all differently at different times. Best advice – if you are going for a drink, don’t drive – but do remember if you have had a heavy night the chances are you will still be over in the morning."