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Girl TORQUE: Restricted Drivers


Welcome to our new fortnightly column, covering all aspects of motoring. This week we look at the risks young drivers face when they get their restricted drivers licence, and what parents can do to ensure their youngsters are safer on the road

It's tempting to think that once your teen has burned their L-plates and got a restricted licence, your job is over. After all, they're now allowed to drive solo. But parents should know that those first six months alone behind the wheel are the most dangerous of your driving life.

A restricted driver is four times more likely to crash than a learner. The boys are seven times more likely to crash than men aged 45-49, the girls six times more likely than women aged 45-49.

Why are restricted drivers at greater risk than learners? Because though they have more time behind the wheel, they are facing new situations alone.

Whether you take that step at 16, 26 or 46 you are more likely to crash. You are not an experienced driver and you're encountering unfamiliar situations. Rain, night driving, taking the wheel when you're tired. And the younger you are, the riskier it is. If you're under 25 your brain hasn't made all the wiring connections it needs. The bits that deal with hazard perception, risk assessment, emotion control and appreciation of the consequences still have a few dead ends.

You might be an expert at the practical driving task - teens are very good at practical skills - but you've got some blind spots you and your parents may not be aware of.

Naturally parents don't like to think this way. Nearly everyone thinks their child is responsible; is a good driver; isn't a hooligan. But you don't have to be a hoon to make a mistake. And you don't have to be going fast to crash, or to bleed.

Now, it'd be nice to think everyone could afford driving lessons - and afford to continue them at least until they had a full licence. But let's face it, not everyone can. And many of those who could are influenced by adult drivers who think they know it all, an amusing concept given even world champions continually strive to improve.

Australia's Keys 2 Drive pilot attempts to reach young drivers and their parents by offering some free driving lessons as long as a parent goes along. The idea is that parents see where their kids are at, get tips to help them along the way - and perhaps learn a few things themselves.

New Zealand's AA-sponsored Driver Education Foundation is keeping a close eye on the pilot. If it works, expect lobbying for a similar system here, with pressure on the Government to put a bit of money into driver training alongside parents to raise our driving standards.

Meantime there are things parents can do to reduce the chance their child will become another restricted-licence statistic. Consider limiting their night-time driving - that's when a restricted licence holder is most likely to die behind the wheel - and supervise them during their first forays after dark, or in poor weather. From 10pm to 5am they need a supervisor by law, but early winter nights bring accelerated risk.

Supervise them the first few times they drive on high speed roads, and warn them of the dangers of driving tired.

Make sure they've got the safest car you, and they can afford. And consider a driving agreement, in which they get privileges in return for buying into your stepped introduction to solo driving.

Sounds complicated? It isn't - but the 'Going Solo' brochure produced by the AA DEF, Waikato and Monash Universities (and available from Mobil stations and AA service centres) offers plenty of advice and information, including web addresses to source info on anything from driver training to choosing a safer car.

Jacqui Madelin is our expert car reviewer and on the board of the AA Driver Education Foundation.

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