25 March 2014

S4M-09447 Young and Novice Drivers and Graduated Driver Licensing

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-09447, in the name of Keith Brown, on young and novice drivers and graduated driver licensing.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I declare an interest: I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I first took my IAM test in 1972, and I took it again more recently, in 2008.

The IAM’s credo is:

“We passionately believe that our roads can be made a safer place by improving the standards of the people who are using them.”

That is a good place for this debate to be and every contributor so far has sought to take us there. I am delighted that David Stewart is here to take part in the debate. I know that he is passionately in favour of improving standards on our roads and I admire everything that he has done in this area.

Let us have a look at the context. When I first passed my test in a car, 51 years ago in 1963, a Mini Cooper S cost £777 and it had 70 brake horsepower and a top speed of 95mph. Today, a Mini Cooper S costs £21,000—which is almost exactly the same amount relative to average earnings—but it now has 184bhp and is capable of 143mph. So, the simple and straightforward test that I passed in 1963 is not necessarily the test that I should pass to drive the much more powerful and potentially much more dangerous cars that we have today.

The first car that I owned a share in was a 1928 Austin 7, with a top speed of 28mph—it could not even break the town’s speed limit. It cost £5, by the way, and came complete with a spare engine. Like Alex Johnstone, I drove that car around unlicensed and uninsured and off the public road—or at least that is what I am telling you here. I started driving as a 12-year-old and acquired the skills very rapidly, but I did not have the experience to allow me to engage with what goes on on the public highway.

The Transport Research Laboratory, which works with over 100 countries, suggests that there could be quite a wide range of savings from GDL—from as few as 2,200 casualties to as high as nearly 9,000, so more work needs to be done. It suggests 100 hours of supervised learning over 12 months.

Let me compare flying with driving. As a private pilot, I went solo after 12 hours of instruction, and 40 hours of instruction was necessary to get my licence. That did not allow me to fly at night or out of sight of the ground, and one has to do training for complex equipment. One needs five hours for a night rating, 15 hours for an instrument rating and a further five hours for a multi-engine rating. There is graduated experience and training. I am not allowed to carry passengers unless I have done three landings and take-offs in the past 90 days, and I have a medical every year and an electrocardiogram every two years. It is tightly regulated. I do not think that people would want to fly with a pilot who did not perform to such standards. By the way, one can start flying as a 12-year-old, so I think that Alex Johnstone’s point about starting to drive at an earlier age has some merit.

It is worth considering, however, what kind of risks one is exposed to when flying. One will very rarely bump into another aircraft—there are not all that many of them. In the UK, it would be an unusual occurrence for there to be more than 600 aircraft in the air at any one time. On the roads, if one travels at 70mph on the dual carriageway, one passes within feet—at a closing speed of 140mph—of other drivers, and one wants them to be well trained and well equipped to deal with conditions on the roads.

For flying, the blood alcohol limit is one quarter of what it is on the roads. In addition, one is not allowed to fly until eight hours after one’s last drink. There are measures that we could look at in relation to driving.

I close by quoting Marilyn Monroe, who said:

“If you can’t handle me at my worst then you don’t deserve me at my best.”

That leads me to something for this debate. The issue is not about raising the standards that our best drivers can achieve; it is about raising the floor below which our least proficient drivers never fall.


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