1. A Change of Behaviour


Helping teenagers G.R.O.W. to make safer choices

In this series of articles, I am going to talk about what for all of us in the driver training industry is a crucial part of the training we provide. It establishes safe driving principles in the people we teach, whilst helping reduce the killed and seriously injured (KSI’s) on our roads each year. In other words, help drivers of all ages but particularly those in the 17–25-year age category, observe safe driving principles, understand themselves, their decisions and how the choices they make massively impact on their crash risk.


The Goal is to keep pupil’s safe on Britain’s roads after the driving test. Today’s approach to training is quite different from my experience of passing a driving test back in the early 1980’s. From what I recall and, based on what I now know, I was pretty much taught what I needed to do to pass a test. I found that out the realities of driving the hard way when for the first time I had to reverse or drive forward into a bay, drive in the dark, on a country lane, a 2-lane dual carriageway or a Motorway at 70mph. I was not taught or remember having a discussion with my driving instructor about any of those things.

After my driving test I learnt from experience and watching other drivers and family. The rest, in terms of how I should behave, what my crash risk was, what things I did that were risky and what were not, I pretty much had to learn for myself, the hard way. I now know that the way I was taught actually increased my crash risk.


Thankfully, things have changed since the early 80’s. The driving theory test is more comprehensive, while the practical driving test now reflects more realistic driving scenarios. Learner drivers can have motorway lessons and we have the National Driver and Rider Standards and Learning to Drive syllabus. There is a much stronger focus on the principles of safe driving and what happens after the driving test to keep safe – ‘Safe Driving for Life’.

However, it is clear we still have a long way to go considering the standard of driving, the risks and behaviours of other drivers we witness every day on our roads as we train. What’s more, examples of poor and risky driving behaviour are there to see in videos all over YouTube and social media and seen at its worst on specialist TV programmes that show the degree of recklessness there is out there on our roads.


With 1,750 killed in 2019 (DfT Report into road casualties in Britain) the trend in the number of fatalities on our roads has been broadly flat since 2010. As an industry, if we are to reduce the numbers of KSIs every year on Britain’s roads, then beyond the practical skills, we need to set a goal of helping a learner driver understand their own personality, their behaviour and how this can all impact directly on their safety and the safety of others. This is the most important thing that we can do to save lives after our pupils pass the driving test.


If we do not help pupils to understand and address their behaviour (their decisions and actions), giving them the knowledge and understanding of the risks, then I don’t believe we are achieving our industry’s goal or our brief as driver trainers. We are missing a vital opportunity to help new drivers, their friends, their families, and other road users void th tragedy and horrors of road crashes.

The behaviour of drivers is a large part of what determines crash risk, even if they know some things are risky and some are not, it is getting them to utilise that understanding when they are behind the wheel. So, how big is the problem and what is the current reality as an industry we must deal with?



The Reality

To many risky decisions are being made every day that can result in horrific consequences. To help pupils achieve the goal of keeping safe on Britain’s roads there are some specific skills instructors need and an emphasis on behaviours of pupils of all ages during lessons that go beyond teaching the practical skills to pass a driving test.

Depending on the individual, the conversations we have with a teenager are likely to be different to those we have with an older learner driver. Because of brain development in young adolescents a person’s age has an impact on decision making. We should not teach everyone the same, every pupil is unique, their behaviours, experiences, personal circumstances, their understanding, their world view, their goals, and aspirations.

Teaching young adults and teenagers in the high-risk category is a big part of what we do. According to figures publish by the DfT in 2019 of all those passing their driving test in all age groups approximately 70% (510,000) were in the 17–25-year-old age category. The category where drivers are at a greater risk of having an accident after they pass their test. Around 45% (328,000) almost half of those who passed in that year were teenagers under the age of 20.


Driving behaviours such as inappropriate speed, not wearing seatbelts, driving with distractions and mobile phone use are some of the riskiest things younger drivers do. This age category is still considered to be the riskiest and the figures continue to show this. In 2019 the DfT reported there were 26,988 total casualties, 5,356 seriously injured and 248 fatalities. A disproportionately higher number of deaths in the 17–24-year age category than any other. So, what is it about teenagers that makes them more at risk and what more can we do?