Coping with the curfew

Written by Mick Bolognese | July 29th, 2014

The new P-plate regulations for South Australia came into force yesterday

My brother is 22. He’s an electrical engineer, doesn’t drink and drives a maroon Toyota Corolla. He was also a little late to the table and only passed his driving test at 21. And around 1 o’clock last night, after a late session on the Playstation, he turned to me and said “hey, can you go get me a Maxibon? I’m not allowed any more.”

As of yesterday, in fact, South Australian drivers up to the age of 25 on a P1 licence have a curfew which stops them from driving between midnight and 5 am. They can also carry no more than one passenger aged 16-20 (other than immediate family), need to pass a hazard perception test to step up from Ls to P1s rather than from P1s to P2s, and will spend an extra year on their Ps all-up (3 rather than 2, with the new minimum age for a full unrestricted licence being 20). That’s on top of current restrictions: P1 holders can’t exceed 100 km/h nor accrue any demerit points (P2 holders may accrue 4), all P-plate holders must have 0 alcohol in their blood at all times, and only those over 25 may drive high powered vehicles [that’s just South Australia – all Australian states have different and confusing rules which are nicely explained here].

The new rules haven’t been welcomed enthusiastically by all. I certainly couldn’t see the harm in my fairly responsible 22-year-old brother nipping out to the servo for an ice cream at 1 am, other than the obvious health concerns. On the other hand, I realise there is a very good reason that new regulations have come in for young drivers. Over a million people between 15 and 29 die on the world’s roads each year – it is in fact the most likely cause of death for people our age. Giving up a few late night snacks to reduce the number of road deaths would be acceptable, but are the new rules the only way to reduce the road toll?

Certainly, the ‘graduated licensing system’ has had success when adopted in places like Canada. The idea is that young drivers are introduced gradually to riskier situations as they gain experience on the road. Night driving with multiple passengers is indeed a higher risk scenario, so eliminating that scenario altogether is likely to reduce fatal crashes. The new rules in South Australia are designed to avoid situations like a young, inexperienced driver having a car full of drunken friends after a late night out. They are driven by the principle of trying to avoid situations in which young drivers are likely to make mistakes.

An alternative solution is provided by Sweden, which (surprise, surprise) is a world leader in road safety and has a much lower young driver mortality rate than Australia. Sweden’s approach is based on their ambitious ‘Vision Zero’ project which aims to completely eliminate road deaths by 2020 and is based on the principle that ‘people make mistakes’: we are not designed to travel at high speeds, so it makes more sense to change the road environment rather than attempting to stop people from making errors. Their measures focus more on improving the road environment: getting safer cars on the road, reducing speeds when cars are likely to come into contact with pedestrians or each other and having better designed roads. Their P plates have no restrictions (just don’t break any road rules while you’re on probation) but, while you can get your Ls at 16, you must wait until you’re 18 to get your Ps. That’s two years of learning to drive with someone experienced in the car with you.

Both sides clearly have pros and cons: the Swedish approach is costlier and speed limits are lower, for instance, while ours places more restrictions on young drivers but lets them drive alone sooner. What do you think? Do you have other suggestions or opinions on the new licensing laws?


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