Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Clearing the road to safer driving

When Environment Minister Alex Atwood first suggested lowering the age at which someone can learn to drive, there were many, including this newspaper, who felt this would be a retrograde step given the reputation of boy racers and the death toll among young drivers.

But we are glad to say that first impressions of his new policy were misplaced and the full details released today do, as he says, represent a radical rethink on road safety as it relates to young people.

Far from unleashing teenagers onto the roads at an earlier stage, the new proposals should mean that they take a much more structured approach to learning to drive, including experiencing motorway conditions at realistic speeds.

Even after passing their test there will be restrictions up until the age of 24 on the passengers the new drivers can carry. How often have we heard of tragic accidents where young drivers were found to be showing off to their peers. That cause should be greatly reduced by the new proposals

And if the approach works there will be a real pay-off - a reduction in the sky high insurance premiums paid by new young drivers.

Northern Ireland drivers often feel discriminated against by the insurance industry and that's the case for young drivers in particular who can pay more than £3,000 in annual premiums. The insurance industry say improved road safety and few crashes would result in lower premiums. It will be interesting to see if this indeed comes about as insurers are experts at finding exemptions to every statement.

Mr Atwood and his officials are to be congratulated on thinking outside the box on a very serious issue. Setting the target of improving road safety and bringing down insurance premiums was a real challenge, but the proposals outlined appear to be up to the job. This is an example -still rare enough to be worthy of comment - of a minister devising a policy which is well thought through, and aimed at making a real difference to everyday life. We hope it achieves its aims.

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