Young Drivers Lacking Confidence and Agency

Teenager learning to drive

It certainly is a strange state of affairs when young drivers, a group typically cast as being a bit brash and overconfident, seem so lacking in both confidence and agency that not only are they doing down their abilities, they are also keeping off the road, having effectively become “parked drivers”.

Perhaps it is inevitable that these Generation Y-ers should be so unlike the generations of young drivers that went before them. We live in an age when house ownership is but a dream for most young people, where meaningful life-time jobs are a thing of the past and where car insurance is, for the most part, so expensive that many are simply giving up the idea of participating in the once essential rite-of-passage that is becoming a fully fledged young driver. Yes, against this background losing the confidence and the feeling of agency necessary to become a motorist seems entirely understandable.

4.5 million parked drivers

For example, a new piece of research by a car insurance comparison website has found that there are around 4.5m drivers in the UK who haven’t been behind the wheel in at least 12 months, and, astonishingly, one million of these are people who say that they have never made the transition from young learner driver to young driver: in effect, they haven’t driven a car since passing their driving test.

This is in keeping with data from the Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey, which details how in 1995 more than half of 17 to 20-year old males held a driving licence and 36% of women in the same age group as well. The figures for 17 to 20-year-olds nowadays? Just 33% of males and 32% of females. It is clear that there has been a massive drop-off that we can’t simply attribute to enhanced environmental awareness or improved public transport networks.

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In fact, it may be reasonable to ask whether many of these “parked drivers” will ever actually drive again, just as it is reasonable to wonder whether, after such a long break from the road, they would be safe to do so.

Sure, if you passed your driving test in 2005, you are legally entitled to drive but if you have not driven in the intervening decade, it is reasonable to wonder whether you possess the requisite skill, experience and muscle memory to do so again without first undertaking, at the very least, some kind of refresher course.

Given that the parked drivers demographic seems only to be growing, now may be the time for road safety organisations to seek some change in the law so that the situation can be properly accounted for. For although it is interesting to note that many of these lapsed motorists will no longer fall into the statistically hazardous category of “young driver” by the time they do finally take to the road again, it is also plausible that, having been so long without driving, they might actually be more of a threat to road safety than they were at the time they passed their driving tests. Sure, older people take fewer risks, but you don’t magically become a better driver by not practising.

Further evidence of a confidence shortfall

So, young drivers are not only lacking the means to give them the agency to get behind the wheel as fully fledged motorists, they are also lacking the required confidence, according to a recent report by Continental’s Vision Zero campaign.

It found that 40% of young drivers aged between 17 and 24 actually considered themselves to be a danger on the road, with 47% believing that they have inadequate road safety education and 50% saying they would not know how to carry out basic safety checks.

And this was no small sample of young drivers either: 1,000 were surveyed. It really paints a worrying picture of apathy and disempowerment among young people. Interestingly, it is one that also tallies with their feelings of political detachment and disempowerment, and given how complicated and highly specialised automotive technologies are nowadays and how little the smartphone generation has to deal with mechanical matters, it should perhaps come as little surprise that half of all young drivers have no idea how to perform safety checks.

On a side note, it could be viewed as curious that so many young drivers self-report dangerous motoring; studies have long contended that people in this age bracket have only limited risk perception and little self-awareness in this regard. It is early days, but it seems that something strange may be going on. Could young people be losing the spark and the confidence that for so long has defined them?

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Could telematics insurance be the answer?

As a culture we should be worried by the lack of confidence and action shown in our young drivers and as a society we have a responsibility to try to address this problem.

Fortunately, there may be a way that gets to the heart of both issues and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is very much a Generation Y solution.

Telematics insurance (also known as blackbox insurance) could be exactly what we need to address both issues of agency and the issues of confidence.

This is because telematics empowers young drivers to monitor and improve their own driving through feedback portals, thereby addressing the issue of confidence, while also helping attribute to more affordable car insurance for those young drivers who demonstrate a commitment to road safety, thereby enabling agency.

Perhaps it is time that the government made telematics insurance compulsory for all young drivers. Unless we take such action, it is entirely possible that within a decade we could be on the verge of turning into a “parked nation”.