There's been a lot of news coverage in the last two weeks over fatal accidents involving provisional 'P-plate' drivers in Australia. Apparently far more P-plate drivers have been killed this year than last year. While the actual amount of deaths will go up and down from year to year, I firmly believe that only statistically significant changes that should drive changes in policy regarding provisional driving regulation.
What I find most disappointing about the recent news coverage, however, is that noone has pointed out how recent legislation in New South Wales has actually increased the statistical likelihood of P-plater accidents.
In 1999, just before I went overseas to Sweden, the provisional license restrictions in NSW were changed. Previously, seventeen-year-old drivers were able to take a single driving test to receive a 1-year provisional license which would automatically become a full license after 12 months. Now, young drivers are required to pass a driving test to get a 1-year P1 provision license (red Ps), after which they must pass a computer-based test to start 2 additional years with a P2 provisional license (green Ps). To get their full license, another computer-based test must be completed. In theory, this means every driver spends at least 3 years on P-plates, compared to one year previously. But in practice, because two more tests are involved, on average it would be even longer.
What does this imply for the annual crash statistics? Well now that the average young driver stays on P-plates for more than three times longer than previously, fatal accidents involving P-platers are more than three times more likely. When the government introduced somewhat-sensible legislation to improve driver training, it actually makes the statistics seem worse!
I'd suggest the government and anyone else involved in this area of regulation look carefully at any long-term P-plate accident statistics before rushing in to change policy in this area. More than likely they don't take account of the fact that the number of P-plate drivers has increased significantly in the last five years. Unfortunately, sensible statistical analysis (based on age ranges rather than license class) doesn't make for good headlines.