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What is the right driving age for young Australians?

The debate raises more questions than it answers

in Compensation Law by Craig Lynch on

Getting a licence is a rite of passage for many teens. It allows young Australians to have a greater level of mobility and independence to work, study, travel and visit friends.

But the sad fact is that Australia’s young drivers are over-represented in serious road crash statistics. They make up just 14 per cent of all licence holders, but are involved in about 25 per cent of serious incidents.

For that reason, there are often calls for the driving age to be changed, and there are usually two schools of thought:

  • lower the age at which young people can gain a learner's permit so that they have more time and greater exposure under more controlled circumstances; or
  • raise the age for young people to be eligible for a learner’s permit or probationary licence, therefore allowing them more time to mature before getting behind the wheel.

Slater and Gordon conducted some interesting research on this matter recently. We surveyed more than 2,000 Australians and asked if they think the driving age should be changed. The majority (67 per cent) of respondents said it should stay the same.

33 per cent said it should be changed. 84 per cent of those said it should be raised and 16 per cent said it should be lowered.

As we can see from this research, the majority of the community we surveyed clearly think the driving age is just right. But of the one-third of Australians who did want a change, the overwhelming majority said it should be higher.

Another issue raised by many people is the need to have tighter controls around what young people can drive, how they drive and when they are able to drive. Again, road safety authority statistics will show that there are particular times on particular days where young drivers are at greatest risk.

Already, various state and territory governments are endeavouring to reduce the risk of injury or death by limiting the engine size for young motorists and how many passengers they are able to carry at particular times. Do we as a community want more of this control or believe it will make a difference?

The reality is that whether we raise or lower the age or tighten conditions, we have a shared responsibility to be safe on the roads and to protect all road users, particularly younger drivers and their passengers.

The responsibility for this can't be left at the feet of governments alone. Instead, it relies on all of us to do whatever we can – education or awareness campaigns for instance – to reduce the dangers on the road and to minimise the risk of injury or death.

There’s no doubt that the debate about changing the driving age and conditions will continue for years to come – but the question remains, what are we willing to do about it?

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