This story has been doing the rounds since yesterday. You might remember that last year DVSA was looking into the introduction of graduated driver licences for the umpteenth time, and there was a large (and expensive) consultation over it. The subject comes up on a regular basis, usually once every 1-2 years.
I said back then that they were only ‘looking into it’ and it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Well, it seems that – also for the umpteenth time – it’s not going to happen at all, again. Well, not until some future repetition of the whole ‘study’, anyway.
‘Looking into it’ came around this time because statistics show that 20% of new drivers have a significant accident (often involving someone being significantly dead as a result) in their first 12 months of passing the test. And the statistics also show that it is most frequently young people showing off skills they don’t actually have who are involved. This was what the government wanted to address. Last year, anyway. And it put DVSA on the case.
Of course, a lot has happened since last year. For one thing, we now know that this government values livelihoods (which equates to votes) above lives. Anyway, keeping that ethic on a roll:
Roads minister Baroness Vere told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee that the Department for Transport was abandoning work on graduated driving licences (GDL), partly due to concerns about the potential impact of restrictions on employment opportunities.
That’s bad enough. All that time and money wasted just to end up making a decision they could have made last year, since it has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome or content of the consultation. The more worrying part as far as I’m concerned, however, is as follows:
She said that the DfT had asked the Driving Instructors Association to develop a new modular curriculum for learners to cover issues such as driving in adverse weather, at high speed, on rural roads, and how to handle distractions while driving. She also said the department was considering a logbook system to prove learners had undertaken all the necessary modules.
Brrrr. Flashbacks to the rat race will keep me awake tonight!
You see, I already cover all of those things on my lessons. The only thing often lacking is driving on snow, which isn’t exactly something you can dial up on demand in this country. More than 99% of my pupils get to drive in the dark – when I think about it, I’ve had far more trouble getting some of them to drive during the day if they’re learning between November-March and only do evening lessons. I’ve even worked as late as midnight on two occasions just to give two who’d learnt during summer the experience. The only harsh weather I won’t do lessons in at all is when it is snowing heavily and the advice is not to travel (basically, if I wouldn’t go out in it, my pupils aren’t). We wait until it stops, then the lying snow becomes a useful tool. They all go on the motorway, and they all get to drive on rural roads, including single-track ones. And whatever road we’re on, if it is safe to do so, they will drive near to the speed limit and learn to think well ahead.
So the prospect of having the DIA telling me to do it differently does not exactly fill me with buckets of enthusiasm.
The next worrying part is other instructors. To start with, not everyone has easy access to all the road types mentioned, and some instructors in rural locations might have to drive for literally hours to get anywhere near a motorway or dual carriageway, whereas others in cities will likely have the same problem finding rural routes. I also note that there are already numerous dissenting voices from those instructors who only work during daylight hours now complaining about the night-time driving bit. And even if whatever they do eventually come up with gets past the permanent dissenters, the issue of a ‘log book’ rears its ugly head.
The Pass Plus Scheme was a great idea. When someone passed their test, they did Pass Plus to gain experience of all road types and driving conditions. By completing it, insurance companies offered discounts to new drivers. But it was abused systematically by many ADIs throughout its lifetime. Rather than waste time and fuel on actually delivering the relevant modules (note that word used by the government yesterday), they would simply take payment and sign off the course as completed. The student got the certificate and the insurance discount, and the ADI got some money (up to £200) just for filling in a form. Consequently, insurance companies stopped offering the discounts, and that in turn killed Pass Plus – which wasn’t improving driving skills at all as a result of how it was being ‘delivered’. And history has a habit of repeating itself.
This proposed log book scheme would simply end up as ‘Pass-not-quite-Plus’, or ‘Pass Plus Lite’. It would be open to precisely the same kind of abuse, and I would lay odds that it would be abused pretty much from day one. It’s absolutely guaranteed to be. There are a lot of people out there who only work between school runs and don’t go anywhere near night-time driving even now, and they’re not likely to change. Furthermore, if the lockdown has shown anything, it’s that the number of militant ADIs who hate DVSA with a passion is substantial, and I’d wager a fair few of these would suddenly decide not to teach in the dark anymore just to be contrarian, or show ‘solidarity’ with those who ‘can’t’.
Passing responsibility to ADIs over something like this is a bad, bad idea. Not because we’re all idiots, but because far too many are. Mind you, on the plus side, since the DIA is effectively run by such types, the chances of them coming up with something that the government will agree on is as likely as Hell freezing over. All the same, whatever they do come up with – and, God forbid, if it were ever approved – will simply end up being change for change’s sake. I mean, if ADIs completing log books wasn’t a big enough risk by itself, the DIA will inevitably – and they will, if this goes ahead – recommend allowing mummy and daddy to sign off parts of the log book to overcome some of the issues created (night-time and all-weather driving, for example) as they try to ‘represent their members’. The government will never back that, because mummy and daddy are bigger liars than those ADIs who used to say people had done Pass Plus modules when they hadn’t when it involves their little darlings and the prospect of them taking fewer paid lessons.
There is nothing wrong with the syllabus as it stands. It’s written down clearly in ‘Driving: The Essential Skills’. The only problems are with how much of it gets taught by some instructors, and CCL was supposed to address that a few years ago. Once you start pissing about with what instructors are doing – again – you’ve moved just about as far as it is possible to go from the original issue of 20% of new drivers having serious accidents within their first year because of their attitude.
Only graduated licences stand any chance of dealing with that core problem.