Monday, August 06, 2007

Restrictive thinking

I've only heard this on the BBC news, but I gather the government are once more tinkering with the idea of raising the minimum driving age from 17 to 18 in an effort to reduce the number of young people being killed and injured on British roads.

It is a stupid idea.

For a start, the difference in road sense between someone aged 17 years and 11 months and someone aged 18 years and 1 day is zero - but one is allowed to drive and the other isn't? Crackers!

Another reason I dislike the idea is that I'm opposed to people of my generation making decisions that prevent the younger generation enjoying the things that we enjoyed at their age. It's why I oppose things like changing the school year and reducing the six week summer holiday. Virtually everyone of my age looked forward to and enjoyed the long summer holidays of their school days. Many of my fondest memories are from those periods of long, gentle summer days and long late evenings. What right have we got to take that away from kids today? Especially when the reason for doing so is to make it easier for our generation to go out and work. Selfish or what!

Similarly with driving, we all looked forward to our 17th birthday and the arrival of that little slip of paper that entitled us to get behind the wheel of a car. I'm sure some will say it makes little difference, but it does when you're 17.

The main reason I am against the idea of raising the minimum driving age, though, is that it will make no difference to the number of young people killed and injured. Those most at risk are aged between 17 and 25. What about those aged between 18 and 25?

The response of the government is, as usual, to look at the problem and tackle the symptom. Young drivers are at risk so the cause must be that they are young. Are young drivers any worse than they were 30 years ago? I doubt it.

So what has changed since then? The roads are a lot more crowded, no doubt about that, but you can't go fast enough to kill yourself in a traffic jam. Speed limits haven't changed much - not that young drivers pay much attention to them anyway.

There are two things that have changed since my day. First of all, the job of the traffic police has largely been taken over by static speed cameras. Locals usually know where these are and know when to slow down so they are, by and large, redundant.

The biggest change has been the car. Modern cars are so much more powerful than those of 20 years ago and even small hatchbacks are capable of 100 mph and of reaching 60 mph faster than mid range family saloon from the seventies.

In many respects, the car has reached an evolutionary point that the motorcycle did in the mid seventies. Back then 16 year olds were restricted to under 50cc - but the arrival of sports mopeds like the Yamaha FS1E suddenly meant that 16 year olds were riding around on machines capable of speeds in excess of 50 mph with no previous training.

Learner riders over 17 were restricted to motorcycles under 250cc but around the same time these were also undergoing significant changes with the arrival of incredibly quick Japanese 2 strokes such as the Yamaha RD250, the blistering Suzuki GT250 and my own personal choice - the chaotic but awesome Kawasaki KH250.

The result was carnage. I'm sure I'm not the only person who had a couple of personal friends do themselves serious damage on one of these machines. The response of the government - I can't remember whether it was the Labour government or Thatcher's Tories - was to introduce new restrictions. Although I didn't agree with the overall way they did it, the thinking behind the idea made sense and mopeds were restricted to 30 mph and learner riders to 125cc (and below 12.5bhp I think).

Surely this is the right way to go now. To restrict the performance of the car that new drivers can drive. It would make much more sense to me for the government to limit the choice of cars for new drivers according to age and experience.

For instance, why not restrict newly qualified drivers - regardless of their age - to cars with a power output not exceeding 50bhp (for example) for two years. If they manage two years without acquiring any points on their licence then they can move on to the next scale. If they do get points then they remain restricted until those points expire.

I'd then introduce another limit so that drivers between 19 and 21 are restricted to vehicles not exceeding 75bhp and between 21 and 25 to vehicles not exceeding 100bhp. All of these steps would be dependent on not getting points on their licence. Additionally, any driver acquiring 9 points in less than three years would be compelled to move down a grade - so a 50 year old with 9 points is also restricted to vehicles below 100bhp.

Finally, I'd introduce a compulsory advanced driving test for anyone wishing to drive a vehicle exceeding 150bhp and, once more, subject this to restrictions based on the points they acquire.

This is, in my opinion, a much more sensible approach than just banning 17 year olds from driving. It's ridiculous to assume that 17 year olds are any less capable of driving than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago and the thing that makes driving different today is the performance of the average car.

Modern cars are quick compared to those from my time. What is more, they are much more complicated machines too, making it harder and more expensive for your average Joe Public to maintain. The combination of a quick, poorly maintained car and an inexperienced driver is what causes so many accidents in the age group 17-25. The obvious solution is to limit their choice to slower, simpler cars. It worked for motorcycles in the late seventies/early eighties - it could work for motor cars today.


Sir HM said...


They want to raise the driving age to 18.
They want to raise the school leaving age to 18.
They want to raise the age for buying tobacco to 21.


Que? Can you work it our stan, because I can't.

chuck yaeger said...

What about Rocket Cars?
They don't have any bhp or cubic capacity at all!
A 17 year old could avoid your restrictions in one of these, and drive round in excess of 500mph and the police would never be the wiser.