Reduced night driving vision

New study calls for teenage night-driving controls

AN Australian university is leading international calls to restrict teenage driving hours.

A Monash University study cites statistics from the US which show night time crashes dropped 30% after tough new penalties for drowsy drivers were introduced in 2007.

The new laws, which have sharply increased fines and suspensions for drowsy drivers of all ages, have been credited with cutting teenage crashes by 19%.

Night driving challenge

As the leading cause of death worldwide among 15 to 19-year-olds, the study’s lead author said banning unsupervised night time driving by teenagers was “an effective strategy” to minimise the risk of drowsy driving in young people.

“We know that night driving in young people poses particular risks and that is because young people appear to be more at risk of fall-asleep crashes,” Professor Shantha Rajaratnam said.

“So what we found was that toughening the penalties associated with an existing law made the law much more effective, and that’s demonstrated by this marked reduction in motor vehicle crashes – in particular fatal and incapacitating crashes in young people.”

The Massachusetts laws – introduced in 2007 – increased fines and licence suspensions for “drowsy driving” during the night.

Drowsy night driving

The first offence penalty jumped from a $35 fine to a 60-day suspension, $75 to a 180-day suspension for repeat offenders and a one-year suspension for the third breach.

In March, Are You Selling reported on the findings of Australian research body The George Institute, which recommended restrictions for P-plate drivers between 11pm and 5am.

Through its Young Driver Factbase initiative, the institute revealed several factors which increased the risk for young drivers between these hours, including the awareness of  other drivers sharing the road being reduced, more young people on the roads after social events and lower adherence to seat belt laws by youngsters driving at night.

New Zealand and parts of the USA and Canada legislated driving restrictions for teenagers several years ago, cutting crashes by between 17% and 47%. Deaths and injuries for young drivers in these countries have been cut by between a quarter and a third.

Night driving

But the head of an Australian road safety initiative said tougher penalties were not the answer.

“Quite frankly (it) doesn’t address the core of the problem, which is better driver education and development,” he said.

“Let’s face it, most inexperienced young people called novice drivers – the 17 to 25-year-olds – have been taught by their mums, dads, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives. A few last minute learner driving lessons to pass the test and that’s all you have to do, you have to pass a very basic driving test, then you’re on your own for the rest of your life til you’re about 80. Now the system is flawed.”

The last word goes to a senior author on the international study, Dr Charles Czeisler, who said the Massachusetts results proved tougher penalties were effective.

Over the past eight years the new laws have prevented about 13,000 crashes among teenage drivers in the north-eastern US state. If safety is the goal, that’s pretty compelling.