Car Insurance — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:23 pm on 5 March 2018.

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Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 6:23, 5 March 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to follow my hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones. She did a good job of introducing the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee. I will pick up on one of the issues she mentioned: graduated driving licences.

This petition is about trying to get the cost of insurance down. I am sure that we all support that, particularly for young people. The cost of their insurance is around £950 a year on average, which is prohibitively expensive for many of them. We all want young people to have the freedom and confidence to be able to drive and to develop their driving skills after they have passed their test, but the cost makes that difficult for many of them.

Young people’s insurance is so expensive because they are involved in many of the accidents that happen on our roads. People under the age of 24 drive around 5% of the miles driven in this country, but they are involved in 18% of accidents. In many ways, I can understand why young drivers bear the heaviest burden of insurance costs.

The issue came to my attention after the death of the son of two constituents. They do not want to be named or to receive lots of attention. They are working through their grief privately, and they wish to continue to do that. I will say a bit about what happened, which I do not think will identify them. Their adult son was killed by a learner driver in extremely bad weather conditions shortly before he was going to become a father for the first time. They have worked through a legal process but, as hon. Members can imagine, many lives have been devastated by this event.

My constituents raised the possibility of introducing a graduated driving licence system in the UK—something that has been raised with Ministers previously. Indeed, I raised it at Prime Minister’s questions a few weeks ago, and the Prime Minister gave a very positive response and offered to look into it. As the Minister is present, I will take the opportunity to go into further detail about why the Government ought to explore it.

Places that have a graduated driving licence include New Zealand, some parts of the United States, and Northern Ireland, where the system was recently introduced. The system supports novice drivers, who are young drivers who have recently passed their test, rather than all drivers under 24. In the UK, a 17-year-old can be fully licensed in just a few months, and 89% of young drivers complete less than 40 hours of tuition before taking their test.

A graduated licence could include different measures to ensure that drivers gain more experience before they can drive on any roads in any circumstances with any passengers. I am not being particularly prescriptive about which of the possible graduated licensing measures are appropriate for this country, but I think the Government ought to look at the system in principle. It would not necessarily be right to adopt what has been done in Canada and replicate it here; the system needs to be appropriate for the way that we drive and for our custom and practice.

There could be a learner stage, as we have now, but with a minimum learning period. That would mean that an amount of experience would have to be gained and a number of hours would have to be completed before somebody took their test. Some of that ought to be under the supervision of a qualified instructor, to ensure that there is some quality of instruction—not just instruction that is sufficient to get a driver through a test, but some in-depth learning under a qualified instructor.

I appreciate that learner drivers go out, perhaps with their parents, who may not be qualified instructors, to get some experience of driving, and that is entirely appropriate. However, the accompanying person ought to be over the age of 25 to ensure that they have greater experience. It does not sound very safe for someone who has recently taken their test and who has virtually no experience to take somebody out to get some experience of driving. As the mother of two teenage sons who will shortly, no doubt, want to learn to drive, the whole idea fills me with an enormous amount of dread.

After someone has taken their test, there could be a novice driver stage, which we do not have at the moment, in which they could drive unsupervised. We would have to discuss or consult on whether restrictions should be imposed at that stage. Ought there to be restrictions on carrying passengers younger than 25, unless the driver is a young parent? Obviously we would not want to place that restriction on a 24-year-old parent who has taken their driving test because they need to take their child to school. I suspect that somebody driving a young child around would be incredibly careful and mindful of what they were doing.

We ought also to consider time restrictions, because many accidents that involve young drivers take place between 11 pm and 6 am. We ought to find some way of limiting young drivers to daylight hours during their novice period, for their benefit and for their parents’ peace of mind—unless, of course, they want to get to work or college.

Perhaps a zero-alcohol policy should be imposed on young drivers so that they can benefit from clarity. I am sure the Government have considered such a policy for all drivers, but the data shows that alcohol is an especially significant risk factor for young drivers. We could also consider restricting engine size, or introducing an additional driving test after a certain period to ensure that new drivers have reached the desired standard, that they can drive as we all do and that they would benefit from complete freedom.

There has been much campaigning on the subject in recent years. It has been estimated that more than 400 deaths or serious injuries each year could be prevented by introducing a graduated licensing approach. Public support seems to be growing: a survey by the RAC Foundation found that two thirds of adults and 41% of young drivers would support the introduction of a graduated driving licence, 84% are in favour of a minimum learning period, 70% support a zero-tolerance alcohol policy, and 90% support mandatory lessons on motorways and in difficult conditions for all learners.

Nothing can bring my constituents’ son back. The young learner driver who was responsible will have it on their conscience for the rest of their life, and it must have been a horrific experience for them and for their driving instructor. My constituents make a good argument that, under a more sensible licensing system, the learner driver would not have been out in such horrendous conditions and the accident might not have happened. Where possible, I am very careful to walk instead of taking the car out when the weather is very bad, as it has been in north-east England over the past week. Even people with a great deal of experience think twice about driving in such conditions. We need learner drivers to experience all weather conditions and types of road, and to be able to drive in the dark, fog and rain, but it needs to be taught in stages. Confidence and the ability to react quickly, look around, notice and anticipate what will happen can be learned only by experience.

How seriously are the Government thinking about acting on the issue? Are they prepared to enter into discussions and consultations with interested parties about changing our system and introducing a graduated licensing system?